Assured by blind American support, the Israeli Knesset is pushing forward a series of bills aimed at satisfying even the most outrageous demands and expectations of the country’s ruling coalition of rightwing and extremist parties.
The tamed, occasional reproach of Israel by the Washington of former years is no longer an option. Indeed, things have changed since the United States dropped its ‘honest broker’ act entirely. Now, Tel Aviv’s growing extremism is met entirely with brazen US support, coupled with intense pressure on the Palestinian leadership.
Fully aware of the American political blank cheque, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Likud Party and their far-right allies are lining up an assortment of Knesset bills that will push the subjugation of Palestinians to new extremes.
One such bill, which passed its first reading at Knesset on January 3, allows for the execution of Palestinian prisoners who are accused of carrying out “operations against Israeli targets”. The law, once confirmed, will apply to Palestinians only, not to Jews.
This mindset is indicative of the basic premise that underlines the Israeli political discourse. Racist par excellence, the Israeli government is planning yet more such unlawful measures.
One of the most aggressive measures to date is a bill that was approved by the Israeli Knesset on January 2 that has several dangerous stipulations. It states that two-thirds of the Knesset majority is required for Israel to relinquish sovereignty over any part of [occupied] Jerusalem. International law insists that Israel has no sovereignty over occupied East Jerusalem, illegally occupied and annexed in 1967 and 1980.
An equally disturbing stipulation in the bill is that it removes two Palestinian neighbourhoods from the municipal jurisdiction of the city — Kufr Aqab and the Shufat refugee camp — thereby achieving another milestone in its demographic war on Palestinians.
It is important to note that the two Palestinian areas are located on the other side of what Israel refers to as the ‘Separation Wall’. This move confirms the assertion that the Wall was built around Palestinian areas that Israel plans to annex in the future.
Now that the wall construction is at an advanced stage, the process of annexation seems to have begun.
But the latest bill, dubbed by Palestinians as the ‘race law’ for it aims at vacating [occupied] Jerusalem from Palestinian Arabs and increasing the number of the city’s Jewish colonists, is a rewritten version of an earlier bill.
‘The Greater Jerusalem Law’, which was poised to win a majority vote in the Knesset, was only shelved temporarily.
The delayed bill called for expanding the municipal boundaries of occupied Jerusalem to include major illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank, including Ma’aleh Adumim and the Gush Etzion colony cluster. Moreover, it endeavoured to bring 150,000 Jewish colonists into occupied Jerusalem as eligible voters who would naturally tip the political scene more to the Right. Concurrently, the law would further demote the status of 100,000 Palestinians, who would find themselves in a grey area, politically.
That bill was cast aside only weeks before the United States government agreed to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. While many in the international community were focused on what the American move would mean for the future of the region and the so-called peace process, few paid heed to the fact that the US and Israel had something far more consequential in mind.
News agencies at the time reported that Israel agreed to shelf the bill “under US pressure”. But that ‘pressure’ only aimed at giving US President Donald Trump the needed time to formulate his own strategy and make the troubling announcement.
Since then, many Palestinians were killed, hundreds wounded and more detained as Palestinians and their allies around the world displayed outrage towards the US decision.
However, a symbolic but telling vote at the United Nations on December 21 showed that the US and Israel stood alone in their fight to deny Palestinians their rights in their unlawfully occupied city.
Wasting no time, Israeli lawmakers are now pushing forward with designs to further isolate occupied Jerusalem and to empty it from its Palestinian inhabitants. They fully understand that the unparalleled US support must be exploited to the maximum, and that any delay on these bills would certainly be missed opportunities.
The nature of the US-Israel coordination is indeed unprecedented. Just when the Knesset voted to approve the bill, the US moved quickly to cap any strong Palestinian reactions.
That job was entrusted to US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who has gone further than any other US official in her attempt to intimidate Palestinians. She declared that the US will cut off its funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and will only resume funding when the Palestinians agree to return to negotiations. UNRWA is the main channel of support for Palestinian refugees. Haley’s statement will further tighten the noose on a struggling Palestinian economy and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which relies mostly on international aid to survive.
Haley, of course, understands that no Palestinian leadership can engage politically with Israel and the US when the two countries refuse to accept international law as a frame of reference in the negotiations. But Haley’s threat is also aimed at changing the conversation, and taking the focus away from the racist Israeli bills that will surely lead to further annexation in occupied Jerusalem itself and throughout the West Bank.
The US and Israel are now actively invested in a system of political Apartheid in Palestine, and are twisting the arm of the PNA to facilitate a despicable regime.
PNA officials have made many threats so far, including the exclusion of the US from the peace process and changing their demand to a one-state solution.
But nothing has been cast in stone as yet regarding that coveted Palestinian strategy, one that is predicated on a united Palestinian leadership that truly explores new options, allies and future outlook. It is that lack of vision that compromises the Palestinian position even further, emboldening Israel to push forward with its racist laws and apartheid walls.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London).