Calls for the annexation of the Occupied West Bank are gaining momentum in both Tel Aviv and Washington. But Israel and its American allies should be careful what they wish for. Annexing the Occupied Palestinian Territories will only reinforce the current rethink of the Palestinian strategy, as opposed to solving Israel's self-induced problems.
Encouraged by the Donald Trump administration's decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israeli government officials feel that the time for annexing the entirety of the West Bank is now.
In fact, "there is no better time than now" was the exact phrase used by former Israeli Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, as she promoted annexation at a recent New York conference.
Certainly, it is election season in Israel again, as Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, failed to form a government following the last elections in April. So much saber-rattling happens during such political campaigns, as candidates talk tough in the name of "security," fighting terrorism, and so on.
But Shaked's comments cannot be dismissed as fleeting election kerfuffle. They represent so much more, if understood within the larger political context.
Indeed, since Trump's advent to the White House, Israel has never and I mean, never had it so easy. It is as if the rightwing government's most radical agenda became a wish list for Israel's allies in Washington. This list includes the US recognition of Israel's illegal annexation of Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, of the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights, and the dismissal of the Palestinian refugees' right of return altogether.
But that is not all. Statements made by influential US officials indicate initial interest in the outright annexation of the Occupied West Bank or, at least, large parts of it. The latest of such calls was made by US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
"Israel has the right to retain some ... of the West Bank," Friedman said in an interview, cited in the New York Times on June 8.
Friedman is deeply involved in the so-called "Deal of the Century," a political gambit championed mostly by Trump's top adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The apparent idea behind this "deal" is to dismiss the core demands of the Palestinians, while reassuring Israel regarding its quest for demographic majority and "security" concerns.
Other US officials behind Washington's efforts on behalf of Israel include US Special Envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, and former US Ambassador to the UN, Nicki Haley. In a recent interview with the Israeli right-wing newspaper, Israel Hayom, Haley said that the Israeli government "should not be worried" regarding the yet-to-be fully revealed details of the "Deal of the Century."
Knowing Haley's love-affair with and brazen defense of Israel at the United Nations, it should not be too difficult to fathom the subtle and obvious meaning of her words.
This is why Shaked's call for the annexation of the West Bank cannot be dismissed as typical election season talk.
But can Israel annex the West Bank?
Practically speaking, yes, it can. True, it would be a flagrant violation of international law, but such a notion has never irked Israel, nor stopped it from annexing Palestinian or Arab territories. For example, it occupied East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in 1980 and 1981 respectively.
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