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US smooths Israel’s path to annexing West Bank

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Seemingly unrelated events all point to a tectonic shift in which Israel has begun preparing the ground to annex the occupied Palestinian territories.

Last week, during an address to students in New York, Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett publicly disavowed even the notion of a Palestinian state. “We are done with that,” he said. “They have a Palestinian state in Gaza.”

Later in Washington, Bennett, who heads Israel’s settler movement, said Israel would manage the fallout from annexing the West Bank, just as it had with its annexation of the Syrian Golan in 1980.

International opposition would dissipate, he said. “After two months it fades away and 20 years later and 40 years later, [the territory is] still ours.”

Back home, Israel has proven such words are not hollow.

The parliament passed a law last month that brings three academic institutions, including Ariel University, all located in illegal West Bank settlements, under the authority of Israel’s Higher Education Council. Until now, they were overseen by a military body.

The move marks a symbolic and legal sea change. Israel has effectively expanded its civilian sovereignty into the West Bank. It is a covert but tangible first step towards annexation.

In a sign of how the idea of annexation is now entirely mainstream, Israeli university heads mutely accepted the change, even though it exposes them both to intensified action from the growing international boycott (BDS) movement and potentially to European sanctions on scientific co-operation.

Additional bills extending Israeli law to the settlements are in the pipeline. In fact, far-right justice minister Ayelet Shaked has insisted that those drafting new legislation indicate how it can also be applied in the West Bank.

According to Peace Now, she and Israeli law chiefs are devising new pretexts to seize Palestinian territory. She has called the separation between Israel and the occupied territories required by international law “an injustice that has lasted 50 years”.

After the higher education law passed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his party Israel would “act intelligently” to extend unnoticed its sovereignty into the West Bank. “This is a process with historic consequences,” he said.

That accords with a vote by his Likud party’s central committee in December that unanimously backed annexation.

The government is already working on legislation to bring some West Bank settlements under Jerusalem municipal control – annexation via the back door. This month officials gave themselves additional powers to expel Palestinians from Jerusalem for “disloyalty”.

Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, warned that Israel had accelerated its annexation programme from “creeping to running”.

Notably, Netanyahu has said the government’s plans are being co-ordinated with the Trump administration. It was a statement he later retracted under pressure.

But all evidence suggests that Washington is fully on board, so long as annexation is done by stealth.

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a long-time donor to the settlements, told Israel’s Channel 10 TV recently: “The settlers aren’t going anywhere”.

Settler leader Yaakov Katz, meanwhile, thanked Donald Trump for a dramatic surge in settlement growth over the past year. Figures show one in 10 Israeli Jews is now a settler. He called the White House team “people who really like us, love us”, adding that the settlers were “changing the map”.

The US is preparing to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, not only pre-empting a final-status issue but tearing out the beating heart from a Palestinian state.

The thrust of US strategy is so well-known to Palestinian leaders – and in lockstep with Israel – that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is said to have refused to even look at the peace plan recently submitted to him.

Reports suggest it will award Israel all of Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinians will be forced to accept outlying villages as their own capital, as well as a land “corridor” to let them pray at Al Aqsa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

As the stronger side, Israel will be left to determine the fate of the settlements and its borders – a recipe for it to carry on with slow-motion annexation.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has warned that Trump’s “ultimate deal” will limit a Palestinian state to Gaza and scraps of the West Bank – much as Bennett prophesied in New York.

Which explains why last week the White House hosted a meeting of European and Arab states to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

US officials have warned the Palestinian leadership, who stayed away, that a final deal will be settled over their heads if necessary. This time the US peace plan is not up for negotiation; it is primed for implementation.

With a Palestinian “state” effectively restricted to Gaza, the humanitarian catastrophe there – one the United Nations has warned will make the enclave uninhabitable in a few years – needs to be urgently addressed.

But the White House summit also sidelined the UN refugee agency UNRWA, which deals with Gaza’s humanitarian situation. The Israeli right hates UNRWA because its presence complicates annexation of the West Bank. And with Fatah and Hamas still at loggerheads, it alone serves to unify the West Bank and Gaza.

That is why the Trump administration recently cut US funding to UNRWA – the bulk of its budget. The White House’s implicit goal is to find a new means to manage Gaza’s misery.

What is needed now is someone to arm-twist the Palestinians. Mike Pompeo’s move from the CIA to State Department, Trump may hope, will produce the strongman needed to bulldoze the Palestinians into submission.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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14 Responses

  1. US Citizen on March 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

    The exquisite irony is that Israel is so blinkered they won’t even recognise the single-state when it hits them in the face. Their ‘jewish only’ state is dead. Demographic trends mean that Israel can’t have it all. It can’t be a Jewish state, a democratic state, and a state in control of its whole mythologial land.

    It can only have two of its objectives at a time.
    Israel can be Jewish and territorial — but not democratic.
    Or it can be democratic and territorial — but not Jewish.
    Or finally, it can be Jewish and democratic — but not territorial.

    Israel is converging on a strategic choice, withdraw to its 67 borders and remain “the Jewish state” or become a single-state with equal rights for all.

    • RoHa on March 19, 2018, 6:47 pm

      Israel can be Jewish, democratic, and territorial by ensuring that everyone within the territory is Jewish.

  2. Maghlawatan on March 19, 2018, 3:56 pm

    It makes sense maybe in Hebrew and is the next logical step for Zionism. But something is missing.
    When Israel decided to conquer the West BaNK in 1967 and the first settlers took up residence in Hebron the settlement model assumed that 50 years later the Palestinians, an utterly defeated people, would have left.
    And they haven’t .
    Israel can annex what it wants but whatever it does it loses.

  3. Maghlawatan on March 19, 2018, 4:09 pm

    Carl von Clausewitz, the great student of war, defined its aim as altering the will of the enemy.

    Israel could never alter the will of the Palestinians. You must be joking.
    Bennett and Shaked can huff and puff all they want. Israel is headed for the cliff.

    • RoHa on March 19, 2018, 6:45 pm

      Israel can make sure there aren’t any Palestinians to have a will.

      • Maghlawatan on March 20, 2018, 2:44 am

        Israel could. And afterwards?
        Israel is a problem. The mixture of trauma, militarism and Judaism is rancid. Say they got rid of the Palestinians. They wouldn’t stop there. They would end up taking an impossible risk like Greece in the 20s or Germany in the 40s. And someone like Stalin or Ataturk would pull the plug. That is how it works.

      • RoHa on March 21, 2018, 12:45 am

        “Israel could.”

        In my more pessimistic moments (those between 1967 and now) I expect Israel to eventually either expel or exterminate the remaining Palestinians.

        No doubt there would be a lot of carefully modulated tut-tutting. Probably some deploring. Perhaps a bit of genuine outrage, and even, maybe,a condemnatory motion in the UN. With the usual abstentions, of course.

        But no-one lifting a finger to stop it.

        ” And afterwards?”

        “They would end up taking an impossible risk … And someone …would pull the plug. ”

        Perhaps. Not a lot of comfort to the exterminated Palestinians, though.

      • echinococcus on March 21, 2018, 4:38 pm


        That the Zionists are performing a genocide and that they firmly intend it to be total, and have the means to do so, is so obvious you’d think any kid with a knowledge of two or three basic facts about Zionism would know it. As obvious as the Earth is round, let’s say.

        But then, it’s not only some “libZ” criminals and the usual [censored] like [censored] who keep denying that. The theory is extremely widespread that making one state out of the pre- and post-1967 occupation under “Israel” will somehow (by which operation of the Holy Spirit remains unclear) end the apartheid system and bring about Secular Democratic Paradise. It is in fact particularly widespread among the writing and commenting body of MW.

        [I am repeating a post, censoring two words just to try to learn, by systematic exclusion, just what our friendly moderators don’t find to their taste –there’s no clear anything in their official policy]

      • RoHa on March 21, 2018, 7:39 pm

        Echi, right now it’s a slow motion, piecemeal, genocide. What I have been expecting since 1967 is the Israelis to say “Bugger this messing about. Let’s just go all-in and exterminate or expel the lot of them in one big pogrom. “

  4. JLewisDickerson on March 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    RE: “US officials have warned the Palestinian leadership . . . that a final deal will be settled over their heads if necessary. This time the US peace plan is not up for negotiation; it is primed for implementation.” ~ J. Cook

    MY COMMENT: So after the U.S. saying over and over for decades that “any resolution to the conflict should come from direct negotiations between the parties and not be imposed from the outside”, the Tump administration has unilaterally decided that a resolution WILL be imposed from the outside!
    Apparently the white man truly does “speak with a forked tongue“!

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Iron Wall (essay), as of 12/09/13]:

    [EXCERPT] . . . [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky argued that the Palestinians would not agree to a Jewish majority in Palestine, and that “Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.”[1] The only solution to achieve peace and a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, he [Ze’ev Jabotinsky] argued, would be for Jews to unilaterally decide its borders and defend them with the strongest security possible. . .

    SOURCE –

  5. iResistDe4iAm on March 20, 2018, 10:35 am

    “The settlers aren’t going anywhere”

    What he meant was the human shields aren’t going anywhere.

    If they were going anywhere, then why did Israel strategically place 600,000 Jewish civilians in subsidised settlements on stolen land deep inside occupied enemy territories (territories with which it is still technically at war)?

    The late Ed Koch (former mayor of New York City) recognised the Jewish settlements and settlers as Israel’s “defense bulwark” against “the Islamist armies” of no less than five nations.

    “You ask Israel to cease building settlements on the West Bank, which are intended not only to house Israelis, but to provide a defense bulwark when the Islamist armies of the surrounding states, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria – Assad or his opponents – and Iraq, again try militarily to crush Israel” ~ Ed Koch, 2013

  6. CHUCKMAN on March 20, 2018, 2:15 pm

    What on earth did the Palestinian people ever do to deserve their fate?

    The Holocaust was the work of Germans against other Germanic people (the Ashkenazi who dominate Israel and Zionism) on another continent, three-quarters of a century ago.

    Yet the Palestinians must endlessly pay the price, a terrible price.

    And, of course, the Israeli injustice is strongly supported by America, a country which absolutely refused to take any refugees before Hitler began the Holocaust. It was quite blunt about it.

    And a country whose great companies and wealthy people greatly assisted Hitler’s rise and early success.

    The American Bund in the 1930s was a big movement in America, one whose uniforms and practices looked for all the world like the Nazi SA.

    Possibly the most anti-Semitic book ever written was written by an American, a rich and famous one, Henry Ford. Hitler quite admired him.

    And America was a country which had literally institutionalized many aspects of anti-Semitism right up into the 1960s.

    The Ivy League Universities (very much including Harvard) and many important institutions had strict quotas on the number of Jews who were accepted.

    Many American clubs and fraternal organizations banned them completely.

    Yet today, this “brave” country with its stunningly cowardly and prejudiced past is the great defender of all things Israeli, that is, so long it’s the Palestinians paying the price.

    Just shameful, all of it.

    • Mooser on March 20, 2018, 3:43 pm

      “And America was a country which had literally institutionalized many aspects of anti-Semitism right up into the 1960s.”

      Until the Civil Rights laws saved us from second-class citizenship. And then look what happened!

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