Palestinians demonstrators run away from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a protest against Jewish settlements, in al-Mughayyir village near Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank Image Credit: AFP

In many ways a de facto Israeli annexation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories has already taken place. What was meant to happen on July 1, but was postponed, is the formalisation of that Israeli annexation.

Many explanations have been offered as to why Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has decided not to move forward with his designs to extend formal Israeli sovereignty to nearly 30% of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. Most probable among these analyses are the views of former Israeli Knesset (Parliament) speaker, Abraham Borg.

Borg told the Italian newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, on July 5 that it was US President Donald Trump who stopped the implementation of the annexation plan as “he doesn’t have time to help” Netanyahu in what promises to be a complicated and intricate endeavour.

Israel has violated its commitment to international law as an ‘Occupying Power’ on numerous occasions, rendering its very ‘occupation’ of Palestine, itself, a violation of how military occupations are conducted — which are meant to be temporary, anyway

- Ramzy Baroud, Author

With this in mind, whether Israel’s illegal appropriation of Palestinian land takes place with massive media fanfare and a declaration of sovereignty, or whether it happens incrementally over the course of the coming weeks and months, Israel has, in reality, already annexed the West Bank — not just 30% of it but, in fact, the whole area.

It is critical that we understand such terms as ‘annexation’, ‘illegal’, ‘military occupation’, and so on, in their proper context.

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Illegal Jewish colonies

For example, international law deems that all of Israel’s Jewish colonies, constructed anywhere on Palestinian land occupied during the 1967 war, are illegal.

Interestingly, Israel, too, uses the term ‘illegal’ with reference to colonies, but only to ‘outposts’ that have been erected in the occupied territories without the permission of the Israeli government.

In other words, while in the Israeli lexicon the vast majority of all settlement activities in occupied Palestine are ‘legal’, the rest can only be legalised through official channels. Indeed, many of today’s ‘legal’ 132 colonies in the West Bank and Jerusalem, housing over half a million Israeli Jewish settlers, began as ‘illegal outposts’.

Though this logic may satisfy that the need of the Israeli government to ensure its relentless colonial project is following a centralised blueprint, none of this matters in international law.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions states that “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive”, adding that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Israel has violated its commitment to international law as an ‘Occupying Power’ on numerous occasions, rendering its very ‘occupation’ of Palestine, itself, a violation of how military occupations are conducted — which are meant to be temporary, anyway.

Temporary transition

Military occupation is different from annexation. The former is a temporary transition, at the end of which the ‘Occupying Power’ is expected — in fact, demanded — to relinquish its military hold on the occupied territory after a fixed length of time.

Annexation, on the other hand, is a stark violation of the Geneva Conventions and The Hague Regulations. It is tantamount to a war crime, for the occupier is strictly prohibited from proclaiming unilateral, de jure sovereignty over occupied land.

The international rejection generated by Netanyahu’s plan to annex a third of the West Bank is fully understandable. But the bigger issue at stake is that, in practice, Israel’s violations of the terms of occupation have granted it a de facto annexation of the whole of the West Bank.

So when European governments, for example, demand that Israel abandons its annexation plans, it is merely asking Israel to re-embrace the status quo ante, that of de facto annexation. Both abhorring scenarios should be rejected.

It must also be emphasised that occupied East Jerusalem was formally annexed by the Israeli Knesset in July 1980 — almost exactly 40 years ago — leaving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in legal limbo, neither granted Israeli citizenships, nor entitled to their legal status as an “occupied people”.

Israel is now hoping to create a similar scenario in nearly a third of the West Bank, which is sure to be followed by more territorial annexation.

Dividing the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C as a result of the disastrous Oslo Accords, has proved very useful for Israel, for this division has allowed Tel Aviv to increase settlement activities in Area C — nearly 60 per cent of the West Bank — without stressing too much about demographic imbalances.

Area C, where the current annexation plan is set to take place, is ideal for Israel’s colonialism, for it includes Palestine’s most arable, resource-rich, and sparsely populated lands.

It matters little whether the annexation will have a set date or will take place progressively through Israel’s declarations of sovereignty over smaller chunks of the West Bank in the future.

The fact is, annexation is not a new Israeli political agenda dictated by political circumstances in Tel Aviv and Washington. Rather, annexation has been the ultimate Israeli colonial objective from the very onset.

— Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta).