FE Today Logo

Israel's shocking disrespect for international law

Muhammad Zamir | May 23, 2020 00:00:00


The world remembers the Nakba day and the majority of global population recognises that injustice has been done to the Palestinians for seven decades. This geopolitical dimension has assumed more critical features with Israel continuing to carry on with its own measures, backed by the United States both inside and outside the United Nations.

In the meantime, internal complexity in governance has created its own difficulties within Israel that made wholehearted support from the United States not very easy. There have been complications in the planned inauguration of an Israeli unity government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the wrangling over cabinet appointments. It has been decided that under a coalition deal with his former election rival, centrist Benny Gantz, Netanyahu would serve as Prime Minister for 18 months before the former armed forces chief replaces him.

Their unity government deal will end more than a year of political deadlock. Netanyahu and former military chief Gantz agreed to a three-year coalition government last month, after more than 500 days of political deadlock and three inconclusive elections in less than a year.

It is understood that their coalition agreement says the Israeli government can, from July 1, begin considering implementing the occupied West Bank annexations detailed in US President Donald Trump's Middle East plan, which has been slammed by the Palestinians. Unveiled in January, the controversial plan gives a green light from Washington for Israel to annex Jewish settlements and other strategic occupied West Bank territory.

Analysts have drawn attention to the fact that what is happening in that sub-region can only be termed as strange in an atmosphere where the COVID pandemic has already been spreading such a terrible shadow. Lives all over the planet are being torn apart either by the Covid-19 pandemic or as a result of its devastating social and economic dislocations. Accordingly, at such a moment, what is taking place there is hardly acceptable. Instead of the suspension of sanctions and empathy, we find the United States upping its "maximum pressure" policy, perversely ratcheting up the pain level.

Another dark page has been the unfortunate Israeli effort to complete annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank.

Unveiled in January, the controversial plan gives a green light for Israel to annex about a third of the occupied West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with heavily conditioned statehood in scattered territorial enclaves surrounded by Israel. The EU has already rejected Trump's plan.

The EU has long been committed to a two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, with the possibility of mutually agreed land-swaps. Israel seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want all three to form their future state.

It is probably the fragmentation within the support structure of the Arab League Member States and the GCC that has given Israel the confidence to annex areas of the Palestinian occupied territories without even attempting to offer legal justifications for overriding the widely endorsed and rigidly interpreted rule that a sovereign state is not allowed to annex foreign territory acquired by force.

It needs to be remembered here that such prospective annexation involves an extreme repudiation of international humanitarian law as embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It amounts to a unilateral move by Israel to change the status of land in the West Bank from that of occupied since 1967 to that of its sovereign territorial authority. Further, such contemplated annexation directly challenges the authority of the United Nations, which by an overwhelming continuous consensus regards Israel's presence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza as solely based on force and occupation, making any modification dependent on a prior authoritative expression of Palestinian consent, which is hard to imagine ever being given.

This blatant attack on international law has been rejected by the Palestinians. They have disagreed with Trump's plan and cut ties with the Trump administration in 2017 over its pro-Israel stance. Their chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has also observed that US Secretary of State Pompeo's team had not reached out towards the Palestinians before the Secretary of State's visit. This format is being interpreted by strategic analysts with some anger. They consider that the Trump administration is collaborating with Israel in its annexation plan in what is both an attempt at burying the rights of the Palestinian people as well as a blatant attack on a rules-based international system. As has been the case throughout the Zionist narrative, Palestinian grievances, aspirations, and even the existence of Palestinian people is not part of the Zionist imaginary paradigm except as political obstacles and demographic impediments.

According to several United Nations Security Council resolutions, Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, as they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population to the area it occupies.

The Trump administration has repeatedly sided with Israel and against stances taken by the Palestinians and Arab states, including recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the US embassy there. Last year, the US government also indicated that it would no longer abide by a 1978 State Department legal opinion that the settlements were "inconsistent with international law". Trump's endorsement of Israel's annexation of the occupied Syrian territory of the Golan Heights in March 2019 was also another measure in the wrong direction.

These elements have, however, not been unanimously accepted by everyone in the senior leadership in Israel. Some are worried that a complex situation is slowly emerging which might lead to instability within the occupied territories and that might have an osmotic effect within Israel proper.

Some Israeli heavyweights, including former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as retired army officers are sounding the alarm. This Israeli internal debate does not object to annexation because it violates international law, rejects UN or European Union authority, or ignores Palestinian inalienable rights. Their anxiety to annexation is couched by exclusive reference to a variety of concerns about alleged negative impacts on Israeli security. In particular, these critics from within Israel's national security establishment are worried about disturbing Arab neighbours and further alienating international public opinion, especially in Europe. To some extent, the critics are also worrying about weakening the solidarity of American and European Jews for Israel, particularly during a US presidential election year.

The current callousness of the annexation initiative seems designed to neuter the UN and blunt international criticism of Israel. Strategists - both of US and of European origin -- feel that that the coming annexation will be greeted by strong rhetoric of denunciation from several European leaders and possibly the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. However, it appears unlikely that it will be accompanied by any serious push for an international campaign to reverse the taking of Palestinian land.

On the basis of past experience, it seems likely that there will be some initial days of print and electronic media coverage. After that social media concerns will also subside, and the world will move on at a regular pace trying to overcome the challenges created by Covid-19.

Both Israel as well as the Trump administration know that the Palestinians, discouraged by years of fruitless waiting, are also suffering, from a combination of resistance fatigue and ineffectual solidarity initiatives. They are counting on that.

Nevertheless, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who visited Israel on May 13 has urged Israeli leaders to be circumspect and consider "all the factors" involved before undertaking the proposed de facto annexation of the occupied West Bank so that it squares with Washington's plan for the region. During his one day trip that included meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partner Benny Gantz, he did not meet with Palestinian leaders. He, however, told the Israel Hayom newspaper that they discussed annexation "but also many other issues related to it -- how to deal with all the factors involved, and how to make sure the move is done properly to bring about an outcome in accordance with the vision of peace". Interesting, to say the least.

In this regard reference needs to be made here to Jordan's King Abdullah II, and his interview published by Der Spiegel on Friday May 15 where he issued a stark warning over Israel's plans. "Leaders who advocate a one-state solution do not understand what that would mean," he said. "What would happen if the Palestinian National Authority collapsed? There would be more chaos and extremism in the region. If Israel really annexed the West Bank in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan," he said.

In this context it would be important to remember that Jordan is a close Western ally and one of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel. Abdullah declined to say whether annexation would threaten that agreement.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to

information and good governance. muhammadzamir0@gmail.com


Share if you like