A warning about imminent annexation of the West Bank was given on Tuesday by UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories S. Michael Lynk, on the eve of his delivery of his annual report to the General Assembly.
He was introduced by Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies Rashid Khalidi, with commentary by Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Diala Shamas. The talk was co-sponsored by the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University and the Department of Middle East, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University
Lynk, law professor at Western University, London, Ontario, distributed a draft of his report to the General Assembly, warning of the trends to annexation, to the audience for his talk at Columbia Law School, “Annexing the Future: Israel, Palestine and International Law.”
Much of the report itemizes the legal and political trends in Israel that point to formal annexation, including the Knesset’s March 2017 settlement Regularization Law and this year’s Nation-State Law, which in combination build a foundation for expanding sovereignty to the entire “Land of Israel.”
Israeli parties and politicians are expressing aspirations for annexation, and there is higher and higher public approval in the Israeli public.
The UN human rights monitor said that he has not been permitted to enter the Occupied Palestinian territory by Israel since his appointment in March 2016, and visits Amman, Jordan, to receive reports and confer with Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists and witnesses.
He said that “annexation trends in the occupied territories, particularly with respect to the West Bank, are quickening, and annexation is in the air, and formal annexation may be occurring sooner than we are thinking.”
He gave the audience his five conclusions pointing to annexation, saying the Oslo process was based on the idea that Occupation and rule over Palestinians is “not sustainable” for Israel, as a self-evident truth. “However, [Prime Minister] Netanyahu has stated that he is only willing to concede a “Palestinian State-minus, with all of the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley remaining Israeli possessions,”
I think here, as part of my closing remarks, might be a good time to revisit Oslo’s assumption about sustainability, which is premised on the supposedly irreducible fact that Israel has no demographic or political choice but to withdraw from all or most of the occupied territory and allow a sovereign Palestinian state to emerge if it is to retain its Jewish character and democratic values.
It’s my point that this working assumption about sustainability is being left behind by the galloping realities of the occupation, and I might cite just five examples for you:
First, I think this assumption fails to account for the creative thinking among the ascendant Israeli right — that it can comfortably live with the model of permanent rule over the Palestinians that would deny them citizenship and democratic rights.
Secondly, I say that overlooks the striking degree of control that Israel exercises over the Palestinians, as it confines them to smaller, denser, and more fragmented islands of land through a sophisticated security method of walls, checkpoints, control over the population registry, and overwhelming military superiority.
Third, I think this assumption overestimates the willingness of the Oslo sponsors — particularly Europe, which is Israel’s largest trading partner, and America, its military and diplomatic patron — to challenge Israel with any meaningful consequences should it retreat, as it has, from any lingering commitment to a genuine two-state solution.
Fourth, it disregards Oslo’s escape clauses that have allowed Israel to pocket the cost-free features of the occupation, the large amounts of European and international aid to fund the Palestinians, and the annual $3.8 billion dollar military package that the United States gives to Israel, while Israel continues to thicken its presence throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and continues the blockade of Gaza.
And finally, I think, this assumption begs the question of whether a genuine two-state solution was ever possible in the absence of the international community’s political will to enforce the clear obligations and prohibitions of international law that could have stemmed Israel’s revanchism over the last half century.
Lynk pointed to the reprieve of the village of Khan al-Ahmar as giving him hope, protected by the work of Jewish and Palestinian human rights activists and civil society organizations. “They are the bridge to each other. They all speak the language of human rights. They are fluent in it. And the work they do is highly professional, and to me they are the genesis of what a future society, either a genuine two-state solution or a one-state democratic solution, could wind up looking like in Israel and Palestine. They give me hope, or else I would have left the job some time ago, because it’s dreary and it’s soul-destroying to tell you all this depressing news without telling you there is some hope for some optimism, some rainbow beyond all this,” he said.