United States President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in February 2017.
On the 9th of April 2019, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected, winning his fourth consecutive term and putting him on track to soon be the longest serving Prime Minister in the country’s history. However, Netanyahu’s political standing could be considered very fragile, as he hardly has a coalition formed and faces corruption charges for which he will be put on trial in the coming weeks.
Further, the controversy around Netanyahu’s re-election also extends to the topic of Israeli-Palestinian relations. During his election campaign the Prime Minister promised the Israeli people that he would soon begin annexing the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a majority-Palestinian territory in the east of Israel that has been a key component of Israeli-Palestinian tensions since Israel gained control of the area in 1967. If Netanyahu follows through on this promise, the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations and any hope for Palestinian self governance and the betterment of Palestinian lives will both be severely harmed and compromised.
When Israel gained control of the West Bank in 1967, it allowed Jewish Israeli citizens to enter and build settlements in the territory, which was already occupied by thousands of Palestinians. This area was, and still is, considered by Palestinians and many members of the international community to be illegally occupied Palestinian land. The official annexation of the Jewish settlements would solidify Israeli power in the majority of the West Bank, therefore demonstrating that the Israeli government does not see the possibility of a two-state solution and Palestinian national identity as even remotely valid.
Many in the Palestinian community are not surprised by Netanyahu’s proposal, having lost hope for a two-state solution long ago. The community has felt that the Israeli government truly gave up on the possibility of a two-state solution years ago, and have already been slowly moving in the direction of annexation for years now. Netanyahu voicing this possibility solidifies this view for them. The Palestinian people are deeply frustrated and outraged because they deserve to belong to a state, especially one that represents their national identity. They know they cannot get this anywhere other than the territories they currently occupy. However small the West Bank territory is, it represents hope for a state existence and the Palestinians must continuously and vehemently fight for it.The Palestinians are not alone in believing they have a right to autonomy. The annexation is in violation of the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization formed in the late 1990s, which was meant to be a stepping stone towards a lasting resolution for their decades-old conflict. The accords allowed the Palestinians some form of self-governance. Though this technically exists today, the annexation of Jewish settlements and potential future annexation of the rest of the West Bank would fully violate this condition. Additionally, what marginal power the Palestinians do have cannot even be truly considered self-governance. Around 60% of the West Bank is fully controlled by the Israeli Army. With an Israeli army presence everywhere in the West Bank, even in areas that on paper are under the rule of Palestinian civil laws and institutions, the West Bank is essentially under majority-Israeli control. And, Palestinians in the West Bank do not have Israeli or any other form of official citizenship, further aggravating their stateless status.
Perhaps most troubling is that Netanyahu’s controversial promise to annex the Jewish settlements in the West Bank immediately puts the lives of Palestinians at risk by igniting an outbreak of violence in the territory. On the night of the 13th of April, Israeli settlers “...stormed a Palestinian village in northern West Bank...vandalizing property and throwing stones at residents…”. This unfortunate act demonstrates what can happen when anti-peace rhetoric is voiced and seemingly accepted at the highest levels of government.
In a letter to the United States President Donald Trump, nine Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the National Council of Jewish women, urged the president to stop Netanyahu from following through with the annexation and to keep the possibility of a two-state solution fully on the table. If he follows through, Trump would need to encourage the Palestinians to revisit negotiations facilitated by the United States. However, Palestinian trust in Trump and the United States has recently been significantly compromised. The Palestinian Authority has refused to communicate with Trump’s negotiation team since his decision to recognize Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, and to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Palestinian people have a right to national identity and self-governance, and this obviously cannot be achieved under the near-one-state solution proposed by Netanyahu. The West Bank is already under majority-Israeli control, and thereby violating the Palestinian right to self-governance. A predominance of settlers over Palestinians, with less than half of the territory actually run by Palestinian institutions, is hardly a national identity.
Additionally, Palestinians in the West Bank are not granted Israeli or any other form of official citizenship, making them stateless, which is a direct infringement of their right to belong to a state.
By continuing to make a two-state solution increasingly unachievable, Netanyahu has proven that he has little regard for the wellbeing of the Palestinian people and their right to self-governance,leaving very little hope that his fourth term will bring any renewed progress towards peaceful relations in the region.