JURIST Guest Columnists Muskan Yadav, a student at the Institute of Law at Nirma University in Ahmedabad, India, and Abhishek Vats, a student at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in Delhi, discuss the legality of Israel's plan to annex the West Bank...
Israel has occupied territories belonging to Palestine since 1967, namely the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. Over the last century to the present date, Israel continues to exert more control, stripping Palestine of any possibility of statehood largely by usurping land and burgeoning Israeli settlements in these areas.
The Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to annex parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1, while continuing the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Annexation often formalizes military control and it had been made illegal by the UN post-World War II.
The plan would allow Israel to retain its Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. The “Israeli military will continue to control the entire territory” of the rest of the West Bank, as Netanyahu announced quite triumphantly at the White House in January this year.
What Is the US’s Stake in This?
The annexation plans are part of US President Donald Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century” that he announced on January 28, 2020. US support would lend some support to Israel as it plans to present annexation as a partial implementation of Trump’s deal.
In November of 2019, Trump had expressly declared that the United States considered the settlements not “inconsistent with international law”, breaking away from previous diplomatic stances. Trump had not only recognized Israeli sovereignty over the occupied West Bank but also endorsed the annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights in March of 2019. He had also unilaterally decided to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. These strategic actions have been unprecedented in US policy, and not without reason; while Trump stood the danger of impeachment, Netanyahu faces criminal indictment, and this plan advances both their interests.
Compounded Violation of International Law
Among other things, annexation is a blatant violation of international law, backed by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov.
Israel’s actions would be in contravention of the rights enshrined under international documents, most importantly the right of self-determination (Article 1 of ICCPR and ICESCR, also ratified by Israel in 1991). Israel, being one of the signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), has a basic duty to protect and preserve the human rights of every individual and propagate the rules of human rights enshrined under the UDHR.
The debates on the legality of annexations usually begin with a reference to the Stimson Doctrine, by which the United States refused to recognize Japan’s forceful annexation of Manchuria. Most recently, the international community condemned the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, which resulted in the imposition of sanctions on Russia by the US and the European Union.
While Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations stated that the action is a sovereign right of Israel, the unilateral action to change the status of the land in the West Bank from occupied since 1967 to that of its sovereign territorial authority is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as the UN Charter, which absolutely prohibits the acquisition of territory by force.
This same principle was affirmed in the 1970 General Assembly “Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations”. This Declaration states that the territory of a State shall not be the object of acquisition by another State resulting out of the threat or use of force and that no territorial acquisition resulting from such action shall be accorded legal recognition.
Being a member of the United Nations, Israel is also obligated to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions. One of the most important is UNSC Resolution 242, unanimously adopted following the 1967 War. The Resolution emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and asks for Israel to withdraw its armed forces from territory occupied during the war. As it is, the existing occupation being illegal, Israel would be committing a double violation by annexing the West Bank.
On May 5, the UN General Assembly released a statement that iterated that the annexation would also be a violation of Resolution 2334 of 2016, which called for an end to Israeli occupation and fulfillment of the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights to independence and self-determination.
What Would Happen If Israel Proceeds With the Plan of Annexation?
It would be detrimental to the internationally-agreed two-state solution, as the Palestinian President had announced earlier that he would end “all agreements” with Israel and the US in response to the plans of annexation. Palestinian leadership comprising of Fatah and Hamas could decide to unite and brush aside the two-state idea in favor of the one-state solution. That would be based on the fact that with annexation, Israel effectively would have rejected the possibility of a two-state solution for one bi-national state.
Annexation stands to halt to the possibility of renewed negotiations, and also severely inhibit efforts towards achievement of regional peace. Already met with two bloody Intifadas, there is a lot at stake here. It could bring to an end whatever is left of security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel would also place relations with the Arab world at stake. Challenging UN authority, which regards Israel’s presence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza as solely based on force and occupation, it would also be met by opposition of most major States. No State renounces international law at the risk of being touted as an international outlaw, as seen in the past with Iraq annexing Kuwait in 1990 and being met with opposition by even those States that were formerly its allies. Besides, the International Criminal Court’s probe into Israel’s settlement policies constituting war crimes still stands to take place.
The annexation would result in a political structure reminiscent of the bi-polarity politics during the late 1960s to 1980s, where the countries would be forced to join either of the ideological sects, one which is pro-Israel and led by the US and another one which could witness many of the US’s allies like Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom standing in support of Palestine, along with the Middle East countries. It’s not clear where countries like India would place themselves, considering their economic and diplomatic ties with the States involved in the conflict, possibly paving way for a Third World sect which might advocate for peaceful settlement of the dispute. While there’s always a possibility of the political pressure and interdependence in world politics prompting the dialogue for negotiations and peaceful settlement to contain the issue, a change in Palestine’s leadership and instatement of a more volatile leader (with the tenure of the current President coming to an end) could lead to retaliation.
Currently, States like Canada are coming together with the Palestinian cause and Russia is also weighing in to promote diplomatic dialogue. The situation of Palestine is peculiar considering the state of its economy, infrastructure, and its geographical placement. If Israel follows through on annexation, there is bound to be a civil war, perhaps the worst the state has witnessed, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It looks like the international community is waiting for some activity on Israel’s part, which might prove to be a detrimental mistake for the fate of Palestine. The involvement of the UN Security Council and the international community is imperative at this very stage to curb the violence and loss of life.
Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank forebode a dark future. While Palestinian authorities had already given up hope on negotiations resulting in peace deals, annexation having precedents like Iraq-Kuwait and Russia-Crimea, irrespective of whether they lasted or were overturned, would lead to prolonged violence and unrest in the Middle East and censure by the world leaders, isolating Israel from the rest of the world. Prime Minister Netanyahu should not go ahead with the plan, for it will fail to achieve its objective.
Muskan Yadav is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad, India.
Abhishek Vats is a third-year undergraduate student at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi, India.
Suggested citation: Muskan Yadav and Abhishek Vats, From Occupation to Subjugation: Israel’s Plan to Annex the West Bank, JURIST – Student Commentary, June 10, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/06/yadav-vats-isreal-annexation-palestine/.
This article was prepared for publication by Gabrielle Wast. Please direct any questions or comments to her at email@example.com
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