It’s difficult to escape the impression that the map used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to introduce his Jordan Valley annexation plan was drawn up in something of a hurry.
Nine of the 30 settlements marked in the area primed for annexation were placed inaccurately on the map, and two large Palestinian villages were left off altogether.
Hardest to reconcile with the map at his side, however, was the prime minister’s declaration Tuesday evening that his pledge to apply Israeli sovereignty to the area “does not annex a single Palestinian. Not even one.”
Inside the roughly 22 percent of the West Bank that Netanyahu’s map marked for annexation lie 48 Palestinian villages with a total of just under 9,000 residents, according to data from the Palestinian Central Bureau for Statistics. Most of these hamlets are unrecognized by Israel and many sit on land declared as firing zones by the Israel Defense Forces.
What will be the fate of these Palestinians? A spokesman for Netanyahu said Wednesday that no details were available regarding the annexation plan beyond the remarks made by the premier.
“These Palestinians don’t exist to him,” argued Hagit Ofran from the Peace Now settlement watchdog, predicting that the unrecognized villages would continue receiving the same treatment post-annexation, if there is annexation, as they currently do. This, she said, includes demolitions by Israel of their permit-less structures.
Another complication yet to be explained is that the blue shaded area that the prime minister vowed to immediately annex if he wins next Tuesday’s election includes roughly 62,000 acres of private Palestinian land, according to data from the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration.
This includes some 5,000 acres of private Palestinian land seized by Israel for security-related reasons. However, settlers took advantage of the policy to establish Bekaot, Gitit, Yeitav, Mehola, Ma’ale Efraim, Niran, Netiv Hagdud, Ro’i and Rimonim. The High Court of Justice issued a decision in 1979 barring such exploitation of security-related land seizures, but those settlements have remained and are now slated for annexation as part of Netanyahu’s plan.
Will Palestinians be compensated for the land that would be permanently made part of Israel? Would they, as non-citizens, be granted access to it? Again, the prime minister didn’t say. If the status quo is any indication, the answer to those questions is “emphatically no,” according to Dror Etkes from the Kerem Navot settlement watchdog.
Etkes said the “hastily made map” was further proof that the announcement was an electoral ploy and claimed that if Netanyahu had been serious about such a policy move, he could have carried it out any time over the last several years, rather than waiting until a week before the election to promise it.
The premier defended the timing of his plan on Tuesday, asserting that the “diplomatic conditions” had only now “ripened” for such a move.
A senior government official similarly deflected criticism that the announcement, map and all, had been put together at the last minute. “The plan to apply sovereignty is not something that we thought about just recently. It was planned for months,” he said.
But, he added, “there were legal issues with doing anything before the elections. The attorney general said it cannot be done now due to legal constraints.”
Netanyahu himself made the same argument in a Facebook video on Wednesday, saying he had been told by the attorney general that he could not make a decision to annex territory while heading the current caretaker government, and would need to wait until after the elections.
While Peace Now’s Ofran recognized the political timing of the announcement, she argued that it deserved to be taken seriously given the specifics provided by Netanyahu.
“I know he said no Palestinian will be annexed, that Jericho, Al-Auja and a few other villages would remain under PA control, and that they would even be given access roads to the [rest of the] West Bank and Jordan — but this is exactly what apartheid is,” she said.
“In South Africa they called them Bantustans. Blacks had autonomous towns, access roads and even had parliaments to vote for. In our case, it will be [a separation] not based on race or color but on nationality,” Ofran charged.
But George Mason law professor Eugene Kontorovich called that conclusion “absolutely ridiculous,” pointing out that in South Africa, Bantustans were controlled by the government, whereas in Netanyahu’s plan, the territory surrounded by the land slated for annexation would remain under the control of the PA.
Where the director of the Center for International Law in the Middle East at George Mason University appeared to agree with the Peace Now analyst was regarding the seriousness of Netanyahu’s announcement — flawed map notwithstanding.
“He presented the plan with a degree of specificity, detail and drama that will make it difficult to not implement it if in fact he wins,” Kontrovich said. Those elements, he added, would also make it harder for the more right-wing Yamina party to remain in a Netanyahu government if he did not in fact move forward with applying sovereignty.
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