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A picture taken on July 29, 2016 shows a general view of Israeli construction cranes and excavators at the building site of new housing units in the Jewish settlement of Gilo in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. The United States has slammed as "provocative" Israeli plans to build hundreds of new settlement homes in annexed east Jerusalem, saying they seriously undermined the prospect of peace with the Palestinians. / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI

The West Bank: Israeli annexation, the deal of the century and the pursuit of Hamas

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has announced that his country understands Israel’s need to have dominant security control in the West Bank as part of any peace agreement reached with the Palestinians. He said that this is because Washington understands the threat to Israel’s existence if Hamas ever took control of the occupied Palestinian territory in the way that it has controlled the Gaza Strip following the evacuation of Israeli settlers in 2005.

This suggests that the “deal of the century” includes a clear position that Israel will not withdraw from the West Bank to ensure that it does not come under Hamas rule. That is also consistent with recent Israeli statements about its protection of the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority, which would fall immediately into Hamas hands if such protection is lifted.

Will the status of the West Bank within the so-called “deal of the century” give Israel the right to remain therein, with its “withdrawal” a mere theoretical formality? What will be the position of the PA and the credibility of US and Israeli security concerns regarding Hamas’s ability to take control of the occupied territory, as well as the extent to which the Palestinian movement has the military, popular and organisational capacity to overthrow the PA, despite being pursued by the Authority’s and Israeli security agencies?

Pompeo: Imposing Israel sovereignty over West Bank won’t harm ‘deal of the century’ 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does not hide his disappointment and frustration at the results of the Israeli General Election. He pushed strongly, albeit indirectly, for the defeat of Benjamin Netanyahu and declared implicitly that the Israelis should vote for the option of peace. All the PA positions pointed towards Israelis choosing any candidate other than Netanyahu.

The election results and the start of the discussions about forming a new coalition government coincide with the leaks regarding the details of the US deal being announced soon. There has also been talk about the future status of the West Bank, especially given the current political situation which is considered to provide an opportunity for Israel to declare sovereignty over the Palestinian territory.

It is important to note the special relationship between Israel and the current US administration, as well as their partnership in political projects. We must also keep in mind the historic measures being taken by President Donald Trump, such as moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the cessation of funding for Palestinian refugees through the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and, most recently, the recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

The Israelis believe that these steps pave the way for a rare political window which they must use to get rid of the legacy left by the Oslo Accords and start imposing their sovereignty over the West Bank. Right-wing election campaigns called recently for the gradual dissolution of the consequences of the Oslo Accords and changing the general direction of Israeli policies.

On the ground, this means that the Israelis seek to establish a Jewish majority and abolish military rule. In Areas A and B, where 98 per cent of the Palestinians live in the occupied West Bank, self-rule will be put into effect and they will be able to work in education, culture, tourism, the economic sector and entertainment.

At the same time, Israel will impose civil law in Area C, and will reduce the potential for friction with the Palestinians. This will increase their freedom to move about, develop their infrastructure, create conditions conducive to economic recovery and thus improve living standards through measures on the ground that will turn walls into bridges.

The move towards Israel’s annexation of the West Bank settlement blocs, coordinated with Washington, demonstrates complete disregard for the Palestinian Authority. Israel plans to keep these areas to provide protection for the illegal settlements.

Israel’s claims fall on fertile ground in Washington, not least that security lies in controlling Area C which requires not only precautionary and pre-emptive measures such as the demolition of homes built without permits, but also the rapid expansion of construction and the imposition of Israeli sovereignty. These claims require Israel to fight any Palestinian presence in these areas, and to demolish any house or building on the grounds that it violates signed agreements.

Such practices prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Israel’s goal is for the number of settlers in the West Bank to reach the one million mark. This has always been a dream of extremist, Zionist, right-wing figures and it will happen at the expense of the Palestinians, the indigenous people of the land in question.

Israel believes that the realisation of this dream, which is a nightmare for the Palestinians, is imminent for a number of reasons: the Palestinians are at their lowest ebb because of the political split; Palestinian sovereignty over parts of the West Bank has declined; and the PA’s status and influence over the security situation has declined in favour of expanding the influence of the Israeli army and security forces.

Moreover, the decision-making circles in Tel Aviv believe that the Trump administration to the right of the Israeli right-wing represents a golden opportunity that is rarely seen and may never be repeated, as Washington aligns policies with the Israeli vision for the future of the West Bank, which Zionists call “Judea and Samaria”. One US official apparently visited a West Bank settlement recently and expressed his desire to buy a house there.

The Israelis have known from day one of their occupation of the West Bank in 1967 that they have to have complete control over the geography, demography, security, politics and other areas of contention. They actually have such control, despite the West Bank being divided by Oslo into Areas A, B and C.

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