Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, new blow to peace in the Middle East

The hopes of peace in the Middle East suffered a serious blow after Mike Pompeo announced that Washington will no longer consider illegal the Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory

Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, new blow to peace in the Middle East
A demonstrator holds a Palestinian flag during a protest against Jewish settlements in Kofr Qadom, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank - Photo: Mohamad Torokman/REUTERS
English 22/11/2019 15:34 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 15:34
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The hopes of peace in the Middle East suffered a serious blow on Monday, after the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that Washington will no longer consider illegal the Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, followed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes nearly a quarter of the West Bank.

In a new and worrying break with international and U.S. legality, Pompeo declared in a press conference that “after carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”

“Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace,” he added. “The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”

Hence, Washington rejected a 1978 State Department legal opinion holding that settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories since the 1967 Six-Day Warincluding East Jerusalem—are “inconsistent with international law.”

Pompeo also said the White House was reversing an Obama administration directive that allowed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to pass Resolution 2334, declaring the Israeli colonies a “flagrant violation”.

Wasting no time, on Tuesday Netanyahu pledged to immediately annex the Jordan Valley. After two inconclusive elections this year and unable to secure a parliamentary majority in the Knesset, the right-wing leader urged his rivals Benny Gantz (head of the Blue and White party), and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beytenu party) “to form a broad unity government that would keep Israel safe and annex the Jordan Valley.”

However, Gantz’ party, which obtained 33 seats in the September 17 elections—just one more than Netanyahu’s Likud,—failed to form a government on Wednesday, increasing the likelihood of a third round of elections in early 2020.

Gantz refused to serve under Netanyahu, who in a united government would have taken a leave of absence if indicted in three corruption charges; had the outgoing prime minister won the elections, he would have pushed through legislation granting himself immunity from prosecution, yet on Thursday the Attorney General of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, charged Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, contributing to the political chaos in the country.

Two days before, in a statement, Netanyahu’s office remarked that the U.S. policy shift “rights historical wrong” because “reflects a historical truth" that "Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria,” the Israeli terms for the West Bank. “In fact, we are called Jews because we are the people of Judea,” it stressed.

Ready to negotiate

The statement said that “Israel remains ready and willing to conduct peace negotiations with Palestinians regarding all final status issues in an effort to achieve durable peace, but will continue to reject all arguments regarding the illegality of the settlements.”

As expected, Palestinians condemned Pompeo’s announcement. In an interview with the Israeli army radio, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas declared “dead” the “deal of the century” peace plan promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that it had no basis in reality.

“After the comments by Pompeo, it is now lifeless. Americans have no right to contradict decisions made by international bodies,” he affirmed.

For his part, PA senior negotiator Saeb Erekat said that once again the White House is “threatening the international system with its unceasing attempts to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.’”

The only way towards achieving peace in Palestine, Israel, and the entire Middle East “is with the freedom and independence of the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Erekat underscored.

In the same vein, fourteen of the 15 countries seated in the UNSC rejected the U.S. measure. “Unilateral moves fuel anger and disillusionment and significantly undermine the prospects for establishing a contiguous and viable Palestinian state with Jerusalem as the future capital of both states,” said Nicolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Prior to the UNSC monthly meeting, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, and Poland released a joint statement calling on Israel “to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.” It added that such activity “erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for lasting peace.”

The Resolution 2334 of 2016, adopted 14-0 while Washington abstained, demands Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities. It underlines that the UNSC will not recognize any changes to the June 4, 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations.

The measure calls on all states to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the Israeli territory and the territories occupied since 1967.

Netanyahu first pledged to begin annexing the Jordan Valley in September; the region makes up the eastern edge of the West Bank, captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war.

It has since established around 30 settlements in the area, which is populated by some 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israelis. Nearly 700,000 settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; major settlements have over 30,000 residents, resembling towns and serving as suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Without big differences regarding the colonies between Netanyahu and Gantz—the ultra-right-wing Lieberman is the kingmaker in the 120-seat Knesset, after his party won eight seats,—Israel is enjoying unprecedented U.S. support promoted by Trump campaign donor Sheldon Adelson—who is mentioned several times in Netanyahu’s indictment—and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who was before a major fundraiser for the settlements.

This support includes the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Syria’s Golan Heights, the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s offices in Washington, and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, which worked with Palestinian aid groups.

Trump also ended the funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and has fostered moves to brand any form of criticism of Israel, including the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic.

Under his government, the U.S. withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, in protest against its scrutiny of Israel’s policies.

While Vice President Mike Pence, Pompeo, and other members from Trump’s cabinet are ardent supporters of Israel as fundamentalist Christians who believe in the eschatological concept of “rapture," Netanyahu has exploited their unilateral policies in order to pursue an expansionist and warmongering strategy that endangers peace in the Levant region and the whole Middle East.

This month, more than 26 civilians died and 70 others resulted wounded after Israel carried out at least 50 airstrikes and 20 artillery bombardments against Gaza, including the assassination of Bhaa Abu al-Atta, a commander of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad labeled by Netanyahu as a “ticking time bomb” who was preparing new attacks on Israel.

In addition, Israeli aircraft launched a major attack on Syria on Wednesday, striking more than 20 targets around Damascus and leaving at least 23 people dead.

The victims reportedly included Syrian soldiers, allied militiamen, and members of the Iranian Quds Force deployed to assist the government of President Bashar al-Assad in its eight-year-long war against Western, Turkish, Saudi, and Israeli-backed Islamists.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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