Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 September 2019

After US recognises Golan Heights, Israeli right hopes West Bank is next

Recognising Israeli sovereignty of Area C would effectively end the possibility of a feasible Palestinian state

After American President Donald Trump recognised Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, a major departure from decades of United States policy, Israeli politicians and right-wingers have begun to hope he will go further and back Israel’s claims to the West Bank.

Saeb Erekat, the Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee, told The National that there is now “no hope of peace with the Trump Administration.”

"The American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan, and granting Israel the right of overriding security control over the West Bank means that what’s next is an Israeli annexation of the West Bank, backed and recognized by the Trump Administration and later a recognition of a Palestinian state in Gaza,” he said.

“Trump is creating a post-international law era,” Mr Erekat said. “He’s is giving a message to the world that whoever possesses military power can occupy the territory of his neighbour.”

Right-wing Israeli parties too believe that recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights will serve as the basis for a future annexation of the West Bank’s Area C. The territory makes up 60 per cent of the West Bank and it includes the major settlements blocs and the Jordan valley, both of which Israel claims are essential for its security – the same claim that was used to justify the Golan Height’s annexation.

Under Mr Trump, illegal settlement growth has ramped up – a fact those that back the projects say is in part due to the American leader.

Mr Trump last Monday recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, a plateau seized by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in 1981. The move was rejected by the entire international community and the UN security council has backed resolutions for it to be handed back to Syria.

“Trump's declaration on the Golan will serve as justification to the many voices on the Israeli right wing, which support immediate annexation of Area C in the West Bank – where all Israeli settlements, military installations and firing ranges, and undeveloped lands are located, along with approximately 100,000 Palestinians,” Aluf Benn, a veteran Israeli journalist and editor-in-chief of left-wing newspaper Haaretz, told The National. He added that Area C was “essential for the viability of any future Palestinian state… hence the right-wing's eagerness to annex it and thus make Palestinian statehood even less likely than it is.”

Mr Benn said that while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had so far resisted calls to back the annexation of Area C, “he will find it more difficult to resist if he wins the April 9 election and puts together a right-wing coalition.”

Mr Netanyahu has even hinted that the Golan move was just the beginning of a new approach. “Everyone says you can’t hold an occupied territory, but this proves you can. If occupied in a defensive war, then it’s ours,” he said.

International law, however, clearly states that territory seized by war must be returned.

Senior Israeli Journalist David Horovitz wrote in the Times of Israel that Mr Netanyahu may seek to dangle the prospect of annexing the major settlements blocs to secure the support of hard-line parties such as the New Right and Jewish home after the election to ensure he remains prime minister after April’s election.

A Haaretz poll last Monday shows that 42 per cent of Israelis support some form of annexation of the West Bank and only 28 per cent oppose.

Support for a two-state solution among Israelis is down at just 34 per cent.

The Trump administration is working on a long tipped but as yet unseen peace plan. There is speculation it will be unveiled after the Israeli elections in April.

But there is little hope of a positive reception as the Palestinian Authority has boycotted the Trump Administration since it unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 in violation of international resolutions as well as the Oslo Accords.

In his speech to US lobby group AIPAC on the same day that Mr Trump recognised Israel’s annexation of the Golan, American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman that the US plan will include an “overriding Israeli security control over Judea and Samaria” the biblical name for the West Bank.

“The fact that Trump is helping Netanyahu to win, emphasizes what we knew all along which is that the Trump Administration doesn’t want to make peace and doesn’t believe in it,” Palestinian political analyst Mohammad Qassem told The National. “All it wants is to continue implementing its unilateral measures through which it believes it can settle the conflict in a way that suits Israel and ends Palestinians rights.”

Mr Friedman recently attacked the idea of an even-handed approach to solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict saying, “I think the idea that one could approach this conflict with a sense of neutrality, that the Israelis have a bunch of arguments, and the Palestinians have a bunch of equally valid arguments, and those have to be resolved, is pretty insulting to Israel.”

Aaron David Miller, who served as a Middle East adviser to the US State Department for 15 years said, “the purpose of the Trump Administration with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to fundamentally transform US policy in a way that rules out what is now the slimmest of possibilities – conflict-ending solution.”

Updated: March 30, 2019 10:30 PM

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