Israel’s project to annex 40 per cent of the occupied West Bank is hanging in the balance. Without the long-awaited green light from the Trump administration, it will remain stalled. After his abysmal mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, recent polls show the president is consistently trailing behind his democratic rival, Joe Biden. A foreign policy fiasco in Palestine could quickly end the incumbent’s dream of a second term in the White House. This explains why he has been dragging his feet on the planned annexation.
If events within the US have painted the image of a president driven by dark forces of discrimination and inequality, support for Israel’s annexation policy will certainly shed more light on it. By endorsing Israel’s annexation plan Trump has unwittingly called into question his slogans ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again.’
How can a country become great when it cannot defend its founding values in the face of unreasonable demands from a protectorate?
The challenge which confronts Trump is not peculiar to his administration; it is one that has troubled successive administrations since the late 19th century. They could not uphold the principle that prohibits the acquisition of territory by force. Even when they did, it was always applied partially and selectively.
When 15 Latin American states adopted the principle in April 1890 at the First International Conference of American States, the US voted against its resolution. Washington’s hegemonic ambitions in the region was arguably the reason for its decision.
Fast forward to 1938 and Germany’s annexation of Austria followed by the invasions of 10 other European countries. On this occasion, conquest and annexation became so unacceptable that the US and Britain launched the Atlantic Charter.
It declared their “desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned” and that they “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.”
After the bloodletting of World War II, the principle of inadmissibility became a cornerstone of international law and relations. The UN, which to all intents and purposes is a victor’s club, affirmed in its charter that:
All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
Today, all these principles have been thrown out of the window in the face of Israel’s threat to annex part of the occupied West Bank.
A full-page advert published in Israeli newspapers in April signed by 220 retired generals, admirals, and leaders from Mossad, Shin Bet and the police has failed thus far to deter Benyamin Netanyahu from pursing his annexation plan.
This month, 47 UN human rights experts called on the international community to oppose the plan. They warned of the lessons of the past; criticism without consequences can often have devastating consequences. Europe could have spared itself the mass killings and wanton destruction if it did not appease Germany’s annexation of Austria.
If Israel’s Western allies fail to prevent the impending annexation in Palestine, the Middle East may itself witness a major catastrophe. Michael Lynk, the 7th UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian Territories, could not have been any clearer when he cautioned that under no circumstances should an occupying power, Israel included, “acquire the right to conquer, annex or gain sovereign title over any part of the territory under its occupation.”
This dreadful situation has reinforced the Palestinian realisation that freedom will not be handed to them by the US and its Western allies. It has to be won.
Wherever they are currently domiciled, Palestinians must have observed with bewilderment last week’s visit by France’s Emanuel Macron to London. He braved the coronavirus pandemic to commemorate the 80th anniversary of General Charles de Gaulle’s appeal to the French resistance to liberate their land from the clutches of the occupying power. The German occupation was then in its second month.
Did it ever cross Macron’s mind that the Palestinian people who have been subjected to the longest military occupation in modern times also have a right to resist? Of course not. While some rights are inalienable to certain people, they can only be selectively and partially accorded to others.
Even as the clock ticks down to the eleventh hour, NATO, the UN and EU continue to dither about what to do with Israel. They, like Netanyahu, are also awaiting the green light from Washington. Cynics in the Middle East see things differently; they fear that the ditherers and bystanders are awaiting another round of mayhem so their industries and banks will profit from the sales of weapons and reconstruction of devasted countries. As for the inevitable human suffering and deaths, they are mere collateral damage.