'This is an apartheid map. It reminds me of South Africa'

Meretz chairman warns against Trump ‘apartheid’ plan in West Bank protest tour

Left-wing party head says PM will annex territory if public doesn’t speak out, blasts refusal to grant citizenship to Palestinians in adjacent areas

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Current and former Meretz lawmakers at a lookout point above Jericho in the West Bank on June 4, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Current and former Meretz lawmakers at a lookout point above Jericho in the West Bank on June 4, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

VERED YERIHO, West Bank — The leader of the left-wing Meretz party, Nitzan Horowitz, on Thursday warned against the government’s imminent plan to annex large parts of the West Bank, asserting that the move envisioned by the Trump peace plan would turn Israel into an apartheid state.

Speaking to reporters during a Meretz-organized protest tour in the Jordan Valley, Horowitz held up a provisional map of the Trump plan and said, “This is an apartheid map. It reminds me of South Africa.”

The remarks, a denunciations of the Trump plan from the left, came hours after a prominent settler leader said the proposal proves Trump is “not a friend” of Israel, and another said West Bank mayors were prepared to “blow it up” if they were not kept in the loop regarding its details.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Hebrew media that Israel would not apply its sovereignty over Palestinian towns located in the middle of areas it plans to annex, nor would it grant citizenship to those residents.

The premier has vowed to begin carrying out the controversial measure from July 1 and almost certainly will have the backing of a majority in the Knesset.

Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz (center) and MK Tamar Zandberg (left) at a lookout point above Jericho in the West Bank on June 4, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

In a conversation with The Times of Israel, Horowitz dismissed the notion that those Palestinian enclaves would be able to maintain any semblance of independence or autonomy when surrounded by territory that they are barred from accessing.

“In South Africa they claimed that the Bantustan also enjoyed independence. Come on,” he said, comparing the Palestinian enclaves envisioned by the Trump plan to the territories designated for blacks by the white-dominated South Africa government.

“[Enacting] sovereignty without [granting Palestinians] citizenship is apartheid,” Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg told reporters during the tour.

According to the conceptual map released by the White House at the plan’s January unveiling, the US-backed Israeli annexation of some 30 percent of the West Bank will turn 43 Palestinian villages — almost half of them located in the Jordan Valley — that are home to some 110,000 residents into enclaves detached from the future Palestinian state.

The plan also envisions 17 settlements being transformed into enclaves encircled by the future Palestinian state, but Israel would still have full control over the access routes to those communities. Settler leaders have aggressively lobbied right-wing lawmakers in recent weeks against this facet of the plan as well as its plan for eventual, and partial, Palestinian statehood.

Current and former Meretz lawmakers at a lookout point above Jericho in the West Bank on June 4, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Referencing remarks made by the tour’s guide, Israel Defense Forces reserves colonel and mapping expert Shaul Arieli, Horowitz highlighted the “impossible” requirement of building new border fences around the annexed areas in the Jordan Valley.

The new Jordan Valley border that Israel would be responsible for defending would stretch some 550 kilometers — longer than the 471 combined kilometers of the country’s current borders with Gaza, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, according to Arieli. He explained that if Israel really wants to apply sovereignty in the West Bank, it will have to remove the checkpoints that exist at various entrances to the territory currently under military control. But once those checkpoints are removed, the only way to prevent the Palestinians from entering the future, enlarged state of Israel would be to surround those 43 enclaves with border fences.

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump administration on January 28, 2020.

“I do believe [annexation] will happen if there isn’t enough public awareness of its dangers,” Horowitz told the tour participants, asserting that the move would lead to bloodshed as well as the burial of the two-state solution.

Horowitz told The Times of Israel that he is scheduled to meet with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Friday to discuss the Trump plan. The Meretz leader acknowledged that he would not be able to convince the envoy of what he deems to be the proposal’s dangers, but he said his goal was to convey that there is a “majority” in Israel that opposes annexation.

Fifty percent of Israelis support annexation, half of them only with US support, according to a poll published Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute. Nearly 31% oppose annexation, while the remainder are undecided, the poll found.

Despite the majority voicing support for the proposal, implementing it would very likely lead to a Palestinian uprising, according to 58% of Israelis surveyed.

Summarizing debates on the Israeli right that have grabbed headlines in recent days, Zandberg said they have been “between those who want annexation and those who want even more annexation.”

Former Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin played off of Zandberg’s message, warning that whatever annexation is carried out by the Netanyahu government “will only lead to more annexation” after the Palestinian Authority collapses and Israel is forced to take responsibility for the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank.

AFP contributed to this report.

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