The West Bank Jitters
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Last week in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intent of formally annexing some parts of the disputed West Bank to their territory , King Abdullah II of Jordan warned the Israelis and the World especially the US that it will lead to a “Massive Conflict” adding in an interview with Der Spigel “I don't want to make threats and create an atmosphere of loggerheads, but we are considering all options. We agree with many countries in Europe and the international community that the law of strength should not apply in the Middle East”. His Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi spoke to EU Ambassadors and conveyed his government’s concerns over the Israeli attempts to annex nearly 30% of the West Bank.

Jordan and Egypt are the two countries with which Israel has longstanding Peace Treaties which have broadly held out despite occasional flares in bilateral relationship. Moreover, King Abdullah rules over a country whose sixty percent of the population is of Palestinian origin and hosts a large number of Palestinian refugees. Being a direct descendant of Prophet Mohammad, he is a custodian of the 3rd holiest Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and other Christian religious sites which legally is contended by the Israeli leadership. However, they rake it up when things begin to go south on a bilateral plane. Jordan’s concerns are legitimate and strategic.

Peace between Jordan and Israel, both are important and strategic partners of the US, largely depends on how the Israeli – Palestinian tango moves. But during the past 3-4 years the region has become more fragile and Middle East Peace Process nowhere in sight. US, which is the arbiter of peace in the region, has changed its chameleonic colours bringing about further instability. Consequently, its credibility in the region has been deeply decimated.

European Union leaders have been telling Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue & White Party and now the Vice Premier - who agreed to form a Unity government with Netanyahu, not to agree to Netanyahu’s annexation plans which was his election promise. It is not that Gantz is against the annexation but he would prefer it in coordination with international community but will he threaten his feebly patched alliance is a not an unknown. Netanyahu has really not been on a great wicket with the Europeans on many issues and does not pay much heed to what they say or think. But Netanyahu taking over the reins for another 18 months the issue of Jordan Valley annexation, and if he delivers on it, could add to his hawkish credulity and legitimacy with the right and ultra-right wingers.

At the inaugural of his fifth premiership Netanyahu reiterated his intent to annex the parts of West Bank and legalize the ever-expanding settlements this week which has frayed tempers and discontent in the region. Even US Secretary of State Pompeo dashed to Tel Aviv to manage the situation as their current pre-occupation is containment of China and fix accountability on them for the spread and humanitarian disaster of the Covid-19. To please the Israelis and beleaguered Netanyahu, Pompeo claimed that “As for the annexation of the West bank, Israelis will ultimately make those decisions”.

China has good relations with Israel as well hence clipping that connection is the American priority at least until the Sino-American rivalry remains in full bloom. Precisely as the world is preoccupied with the virus Netanyahu wishes to capitalise on adversity to fulfil his election promise and cherished dream even though currently the collaboration with Palestine within the context of Covid-19 has shifted gears.

West Bank comprising of Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem has been in contention at least since the 1967 war when Israel conclusively defeated the Arabs and occupied it. It currently inhabits nearly 400,000 Israelis in ever expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territory that has not been accorded legality by the international law or community as it runs counter to various agreements and UNSC resolutions that were the basis of two state solution and eventual peace in the region. Although since 1948 Jordan had retained control over the area which it lost in 1967 war to Israel. Since then international efforts have been made to somehow arrive at an equitable two state solution of Palestine with its capital as East Jerusalem and State of Israel living side by side in accordance with Arab Peace Plan and UNSC Resolutions, Oslo Accords etc. But over seven decades have not sufficed for it. And the violence and utter mistrust in the security vs sovereignty paradigm matrix continues unabated.

Although Middle East Peace Process and the Quad efforts have been standstill for several years’ arrival of President Trump at the helm of affairs nearly killed it. He unveiled his much touted ‘Deal of the Century’ in the beginning of this year which was happily accepted by Netanyahu and outright rejected by the Palestinians being one sided and under which they would lose their suzerainty and sovereignty for ever. Before that Trump had decided to shift US embassy to Jerusalem de facto recognising it as the capital of Israel. Then under the Deal he legitimised the Jewish settlements and recognised the annexation of parts of the West Bank. Hence, Netanyahu has claimed to annex the west bank (referred by them as Judea and Samaria) on July 1, in accordance with the Deal of the Century with the Trumpian blessings and thereby bringing the region to further destabilisation.

Palestinians dismissed the Jared-Bibi Deal (Deal of the Century authored by Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner and Benjamin Netanyahu) as the century old Sykes-Picot Agreement or the Balfour Declaration. Both Trump and Netanyahu feel that given the fatigue in the Arab World and their rapprochement with Israel the opposition to this move will remain manageable. But with the Arab Spring 2.0 in motion and adverse economic impacts of Covid -19 the Arab street might not be so quiet to it and may even challenge their own leadership forcing them to take an overt and decisive stand against the annexation.

At this juncture when US needs all its partners to corner the Chinese it would prefer to keep its regional pack together for whom the Palestinian issue remains the common denominator. Perhaps the Americans will have no option but to intervene to avert further escalation of conflict lest their major anti-China project gets compromised. As such the American security cover in the region has become suspect due to security monetization principle introduced by the Trump administration. Would the Israelis feel more secured with the proposed annexation is a big question as the Palestinians will react vehemently?

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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