Israel’s upcoming incorporation of parts of the West Bank has triggered a heated debate with European and Arab states, which have strongly condemned the initiative. Israeli publicist Avigdor Eskin explains why the move is unlikely to shatter the peace in the Middle East and why the EU won’t impose sanctions on the Jewish state over the West Bank.
On 1 July, the partial incorporation of the West Bank can be put to a vote in accordance with the agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. A question remains as to what parts of the region Israeli sovereignty will be applied first.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu reportedly presented Gantz with four different options for the incorporation of the lands, ranging from an almost symbolic move to extending Israel’s sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank (covering the Jordan Valley and all 132 Israeli settlements), which was green-lighted by the US in Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan. For his part, the alternate prime minister signalled that he opposes annexing the territories inhabited by large numbers of Palestinian Arabs and insisted that those living in the annexed areas would be granted Israeli citizenship, according to The Times of Israel.
Gantz Apparently Prepared for Biden to Win
“There were no plans to extend the Israeli laws to any part of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) with Arab population”, argues Avigdor Eskin, Israeli publicist and political commentator. “Netanyahu wants to annex some areas with zero Arab population with the full support of the Trump administration. Ironically, Gantz and his divided party are more cautious about it than the US State Department.”
According to the publicist, Netanyahu “will be ready for compromises” because even the symbolic annexation will open the door to the implementation of Trump’s plan outlined in January this year.
Apparently, Gantz has not ruled out a potential win by presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in November 2020, with all the possible consequences it may bring about, the commentator presumes. Earlier in the week, 115 House Democrats wrote an open letter expressing concerns over Israel’s decision to incorporate some of the West Bank‘s territories.
On 28 January 2020, Donald Trump released the so-called “deal of the century” envisaging in particular Israel’s sovereignty over key areas of Judea and Samaria – the biblical names of the two regions that make up the West Bank. The move was preceded by the announcement made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in November 2019 that Washington no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “inconsistent with international law”. Both Trump’s peace plan and Pompeo’s remarks came under heavy criticism from the UN, major EU member states, and the Arab countries, which regard the Israeli settlements as illegal.
UAE Issues Warning But Israel Has ‘No Reasons to Worry’
Likewise, ahead of the 1 July vote, a number of Arab countries and Turkey expressed their opposition to the move. Anwar Gargash, the United Arab Emirates’ minister of state for foreign affairs, warned during his Wednesday speech at the Washington-based Middle East Institute that the plan could undermine the “two-state solution” for Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. For his part, UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba wrote in his op-ed for Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth that the extension of Israeli sovereignty would “upend all Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the UAE”.
“Israel has no reasons to worry”, says Eskin commenting on the mounting criticism from the Muslim-dominated states. “The local Arab population will only gain from this move economically. This will bring for them new working places in the neighbouring Jewish townships. Therefore, the internal protests will be insignificant as it was in the case of Jerusalem and Golan Heights”.
He expects that harsh rhetoric from Ankara and some Muslims countries including Iran will go on but they “will fail to create any real problem for Israel”.
“They will not be supported by the Arab masses inside Israel”, the Israeli publicist opines. “Notwithstanding what Mahmud Abbas will state, Israel is not going to deprive local Arabs from anything but will only improve their living conditions.”
Previously, Washington recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then acknowledged the disputed Golan Heights as part of Israel through a presidential proclamation signed in March 2019. The aforementioned moves triggered a storm of criticism from Arab countries, but did not translate into meaningful actions against the Jewish state.
EU States are Up in Arms Over West Bank Incorporation Plans But Lack Unity
Meanwhile, the European Union has also raised its voice against the Israeli initiative: European Union High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell warned Israel about “significant consequences” for EU-Israeli ties if the country proceeds with the extension of sovereignty.
“Annexation would inevitably have significant consequences for the close relationship we currently enjoy with Israel. I will not prejudge the specific impact of a possible annexation, but let me underline that the EU has its own obligations and responsibility under international and EU law,” Borrell told the European Parliament on Thursday.
However, citing diplomats from Brussels and EU member states, The Jerusalem Post specified on 18 June that no anti-Israeli economic sanctions are on the table. Besides this, it appears that some European countries do not share the bloc’s tough stance towards Israel. In February 2020, six European states including Italy, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic, opposed Borrell’s effort to issue a joint resolution condemning Trump’s Middle East plan, according to The Times of Israel.
“Josep Borrell is known for his staunch anti-Israeli and also anti-Russian sentiments,” Eskin points out. “And one will certainly find some other politicians in Europe who will condemn Israeli no matter what Israel does. However, anti-Israeli sanctions must be supported unanimously, by all the members of the EU, to come into force. And this is not going to happen.”
The Israeli publicist argues that “the case of occupation by Israel is very different from the others”. He recollects that the territory of Judea and Samaria “was destined to be a part of the Jewish state by the League of Nations both in 1920 and in 1922”, adding that the same body gave legitimacy to the modern states of Syria, Iraq and others. Furthermore, the territories comprising the West Bank were conquered from Jordan during the Six Days War after they were invaded and illegally occupied by Amman between 1948 and 1967, Eskin highlights, adding that for some reason no one is condemning Jordan, which unleashed the 1947–49 Palestine War upon Israel along with a coalition of Arab states.