From The National
With a Palestinian "state" effectively restricted to Gaza, the humanitarian catastrophe there needs to be urgently addressed
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, Mr Bennett, who leads 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."