ISRAEL, ANNEXATION AND THE WEST BANK EXPLAINED













                                      Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is planning to effectively annex parts of the occupied West Bank in what would be a major - and highly controversial - act.


What is the West Bank? It is a chunk of land located - as the name suggests - on the west bank of the River Jordan and bounded by Israel to the north, west and south. To its east lies Jordan.

The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, but decades of difficult on-off talks between Israel and the Palestinians - both of whom assert rights there - have left its final status unresolved.

Between 2.1 million and 3 million (sources vary) Palestinian Arabs live in the West Bank under both limited self-rule and Israeli military rule.

The West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) is also home to some 430,000 Israeli Jews who live in 132 settlements (and 124 smaller "outposts") built under Israel's occupation.

The vast majority of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel and the US under the Trump administration dispute this interpretation.

What is "annexation" and why does it matter here?

Annexation is the term applied when a state unilaterally proclaims its sovereignty over other territory. It is forbidden by international law. A recent example was Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014.

Mr Netanyahu has said the plan is "not annexation", although it involves applying Israeli sovereignty to the parts of the West Bank which contain Jewish settlements, as well as most of a swathe of land along the West Bank's boundary with Jordan, known as the Jordan Valley.

The move could result in some 4.5% of Palestinians in the West Bank living in enclaves within annexed territory. Mr Netanyahu has said Israeli sovereignty will not be applied to Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, and reports say the same exclusion will extend to Palestinians in other annexed parts of the West Bank.

The areas earmarked for annexation (the precise contours of which are being mapped by Israel and the US) may comprise about 30% of the West Bank, according to reports. Mr Netanyahu may initially act to annex just the settlements, which could amount to only 3% of the West Bank. The remaining 27% may have to wait until the boundaries are agreed with Washington.

However, the Palestinians seek the whole of the West Bank - to which they claim an historical right - for a future independent state, along with the Gaza Strip. Any annexation by Israel, they argue, would leave Palestinian areas fragmented and the Palestinian people with considerably less land for a country of their own.  If it's so controversial, why does Israel want to do it?

Israel claims historical and religious rights to the West Bank as the ancestral land of the Jewish people. It also says its presence there - especially in the Jordan Valley - is strategically vital for its self-defense.

It says settlements are not an obstacle to peace and that they would remain part of Israel under any peace deal with the Palestinians, whether they are annexed now or not.

Mr Netanyahu has long championed the settlements and through annexation wants to remove any doubt as to their fate, something which strongly appeals to his political base.


Why is this being talked about now?

Until recently, Mr Netanyahu would have faced solid opposition among the international community to such a move.

However, Donald Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, unveiled in January, allows for Israel to "incorporate" the settlements - a radical shift from previous US positions.

It is possible that Mr Netanyahu wants to get it done before the US presidential election in November in case Mr Trump's rival Joe Biden - who opposes annexation - is elected and reverses US policy.

An agreement which returned Mr Netanyahu to office as head of a national unity government in May set 1 July as the date from which the annexation process could be initiated.


What would change with annexation?

It is by no means certain that it will go ahead (the US recently seemed to temper its position), but assuming it happens, the settlements and surrounding areas will become permanent parts of Israel (at least, from Israel's position). Reversal would require the support of a large majority of Israeli MPs, something which is very unlikely.

In practice, Israeli laws already apply to settlers, though not to Palestinians, who are subject only to Israeli military orders and Palestinian laws, so there would be little noticeable change in that respect.

One of the most significant differences annexation would likely make is in settlement construction - long one of the thorniest issues between Israel and the Palestinians.

Currently, building and zoning in the West Bank requires the approval of Israel's defence minister and prime minister, and can take months or years. Following annexation, it would become a local matter and consequently easier for Israel to build there.

Beyond the annexed areas, the Israeli military will continue to exercise overall authority - something Palestinians say has deprived generations of their basic civil rights.


What is the global response to Israel's plan?

By and large, Israel has been warned by friend and foe alike not to go ahead with annexation. There are fears that such a move will put peace between Israel and the Palestinians even further out of reach.

The Palestinians are calling for international pressure to thwart Mr Netanyahu's plans, and their prime minister has said they could declare their own independent state on almost all of the West Bank if Israel annexes land there.

The UN's Middle East envoy has warned that Israeli annexation and Palestinian counter-steps "would dramatically shift local dynamics and most likely trigger conflict and instability in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip". However, the US is likely to block any attempts to pass resolutions at the UN Security Council condemning Israel.

Jordan, one of only two Arab states to have signed peace treaties with Israel, has said it would be forced to review its relations with Israel if annexation goes ahead. But while the Arab world has sharply criticized Israel's plans, declarations of solidarity with the Palestinians may be as far as Arab states - especially those in the Gulf that have unofficial relations with Israel - will go.

The EU - Israel's biggest trading partner - says it will use diplomatic means to "discourage" Israel from carrying out its plans. Although some member states have called for tougher action, including possible sanctions, there appears little support for such a move at the moment. –BBCi




ISRAEL'S WEST BANK ANNEXATION PLAN CONDEMNED BY UN EXPERTS














Almost 50 UN human rights experts have condemned Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, calling it a "vision of a 21st Century apartheid".

Such a move would violate international law and leave what would amount to "a Palestinian Bantustan", they warned.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says in July he may start the process of applying Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley.

Such a move was effectively green-lighted by Donald Trump's peace plan.

Mr Trump's Vision for Peace, released in January, also envisages a Palestinian state in the remaining 70% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and with its capital on the fringes of East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians - who claim all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem - have dismissed the plan as biased towards Israel and a denial of their rights.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war. It pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but the UN says its occupation there has not ended.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel and the Trump administration dispute this.

What do the UN experts say?

"The annexation of occupied territory is a serious violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions, and contrary to the fundamental rule affirmed many times by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly that the acquisition of territory by war or force is inadmissible," said the 47 experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.

They added that the Israeli occupation was already a "source of profound human rights violations against the Palestinian people", and that they "would only intensify after annexation".

"Israel has recently promised that it will maintain permanent security control between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Thus, the morning after annexation would be the crystallization of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st Century apartheid."

The experts noted that Israel had annexed occupied land in East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Syrian Golan Heights in 1981, and that on both occasions the UN Security Council had condemned the actions but taken "no meaningful countermeasures". "This time must be different," they added.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli government.

However, an unnamed Israeli diplomatic source told the Times of Israel that the statement "does nothing to help finding a solution to the conflict or to create a constructive dialogue between the parties". The source also said that some of the experts "have nothing to do with the region or the rights the statement deals with".

The secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Saeb Erekat, welcomed the experts' statement as "a reminder for the international community of its responsibilities, of the gravity of the situation and of the urgency to implement accountability measures to end the illegal colonial-settlement enterprise".


What is the Israeli government's plan?

Prime Minister Netanyahu says he wants to "apply Israeli sovereignty" to the parts of the West Bank which contain the Jewish settlements, as well as most of a swathe of land along the West Bank's boundary with Jordan, known as the Jordan Valley.

Palestinians in the Jordan Valley will be exempt from annexation, and reports say the same exclusion will to apply to Palestinians in other annexed parts of the West Bank.

The areas earmarked for annexation (the precise contours of which are being mapped by Israel and the US) may comprise about 30% of the West Bank, according to reports.

Mr Netanyahu might initially act to annex just the settlements, which could amount to only 3%, and the remaining 27% later on once the boundaries are agreed with Washington.


Why does it intend to act now?

Israel claims historical and religious rights to the West Bank as the ancestral land of the Jewish people. It also says its presence there - especially in the Jordan Valley - is strategically vital for its self-defense.

It says settlements are not an obstacle to peace and that they would remain part of Israel under any peace deal with the Palestinians, whether they are annexed now or not.

Mr Netanyahu has long championed the settlements and through annexation wants to remove any doubt as to their fate, something which strongly appeals to his political base.

Until recently, Mr Netanyahu would have faced solid opposition among the international community to such a move. However, President Trump's plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians allows for Israel to "incorporate" the settlements - a radical shift from previous US positions.

It is possible that Mr Netanyahu wants to get it done before the US elections in November in case Mr Trump's rival Joe Biden - who opposes annexation - is elected and reverses US policy. --BBCi


                       JEWISH COMMUNITIES HONOR JUNETEENTH

Reform rabbis and their congregations participated in their own ways in the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States:

Rabbi Seth Limmer of Chicago Sinai Congregation attended a peaceful Juneteenth protest in Chicago led by a multi-faith group of clergy and why fighting for racial justice has always been a priority among Reform Jews.

Rabbi David Levy of Westchester Reform Temple discussed his congregation’s partnership with Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church in Mount Vernon to hold a Juneteenth Shabbat Service.

Rabbi Jessica Wainer of Northern Virginia Hebrew congregation’s Juneteenth Tikkun was a time of learning, exploration, and opening of the mind that will take place from sundown to sunrise and includes interfaith partner clergy throughout the night.

Other Reform rabbis in their own special ways joined in the push for racial justice, such as attending marches and protests and holding fundraising events for national and local racial justice organizations.

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