In Depth

What is the future of Israel-Palestine relations as Netanyahu pushes to annex West Bank?

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas raises stakes for new Israeli government by vowing to end security cooperation

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has declared an end to security cooperation with Israel and the US over plans by the new Israeli government to annex parts of the West Bank.

Tensions have been running high since Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his former political rival Benny Gantz formed a political union and announced plans to declare sovereignty over Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank - a de facto annexation.

At an emergency meeting this week to discuss the plans, Abbas said that his Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] was “absolved... of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the commitments based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones”.

Why does Israel want to annex the West Bank now?

In an address to the Israeli parliament on Sunday, Netanyahu argued that the time was right to annex the territory in the occupied West Bank that the Palestinians have long counted on for a future state.

“These areas of the country were the places of the birth and the growth of the Jewish nation,” Netanyahu told lawmakers in the Knesset. “And it is time to apply Israeli law and to write a glorious new chapter in the history of Zionism.”

For decades, such a move “wasn’t seriously considered”, writes Shmuel Rosner, a fellow at Jerusalem-based think-tank The Jewish People Policy Institute, in an opinion piece for The New York Times. Yet this “worrisome idea… is no longer marginal or considered as extreme as it once was”.

This shift in stance is due primarily to the ongoing failure of the Middle East peace process, Rosner says. Since decades of negotiations have failed to yield an agreement on a two-state solution, “a growing number of Israeli leaders are reaching the conclusion that this old idea is dead”.

And since they also believe the status quo is unsustainable, “they are searching for new ideas”.

Gideon Levy of Israeli newspaper Haaretz says that annexation is “shaping up as the only way out of the deadlock” that sees some 700,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, with no intention to leave.

The alternative to annexation is worse than the status quo, Levy argues, because “it would eternalise the criminal situation - this situation has long been perpetuated; it would establish a reality of apartheid - a reality that has existed for quite some time”.

Annexation puts “an end to the lies, and requires everyone to look the truth straight in the eye”, he adds.

And time is of the essence because by the beginning of next year, a new leader may have taken residence in the White House.

According to news site Axios, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been lobbying the Donald Trump administration “to convince them that Israel must move forward on annexations of parts of the West Bank before November’s election, fearing that Joe Biden will defeat President Trump”.

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What might Abbas do next?

That remains to be seen. The PLO voted two years ago to end cooperation with Israel and the US, and left it up to Abbas to decide when and how to implement the move.

But it is “unclear… what his declaration would mean in practice, especially in terms of the future of the Palestinian security apparatus”, says The Guardian.

According to Daniel Levy, president of independent policy institute the US/Middle East Project, “to pass the bar of credibility as a threat, to show this is not the same as the umpteen threats that they’ve previously issued of a similar nature and that they never acted on, the bar is very high. We will actually have to see Palestinian action.”

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