Israel/OPT: 10 things you need to know about “annexation”

On 20 April, following Israel’s third election within 10 months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz formed a governing coalition under a unity deal. Included in this deal is an agreement allowing Israel’s government to start the domestic process of “annexing” parts of the occupied West Bank that includes Israeli settlements and the area of the Jordan Valley.

According to the coalition deal between Netanyahu and Gantz, the government can bring “annexation” plans to debate and approval of the cabinet and Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, starting 1 July 2020.

Israel’s “annexation” plan follows the announcement by US President Donald Trump of his so-called “deal of the century” in January 2020, which proposed that areas of the occupied West Bank be annexed by Israel.

Amnesty International has made it clear that the Trump Administration’s plan would serve only to worsen human rights violations and enshrine the entrenched impunity that has fueled decades of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations.

According to reports, the Israeli proposal could include as much as 33% of the total area of West Bank.

Here are 10 things you need to know about “annexation”

1. Is a flagrant violation of international law

“Annexation” is acquiring territory by force and is a flagrant violation of international law. As such it can have no effect on the legal status of the territory, which remains de jure occupied. In the context of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), “annexation” means extending Israeli law to areas which are recognized as occupied and treating them as part of the territory of Israel.

2. Illustrates cynical disregard for international law

International law is crystal clear on this matter – annexation is unlawful. Israel’s continued pursuit of this policy further illustrates its cynical disregard for international law. Such policies do not change the legal status of the territory and its inhabitants under international law as occupied nor remove Israel’s responsibilities as the occupying power under international humanitarian law– rather it points to the to the longstanding need for the international community to put an end to impunity for violations of international law by Israel.

3. Exacerbates decades of human rights violations

Amnesty International is calling on the Israeli authorities to immediately abandon plans to further “annex” territory in the occupied West Bank because they will exacerbate decades of systematic human rights violations against Palestinians and aim to deprive Palestinians in the OPT of the protection of international humanitarian law.

Such a step by Israel would also violate the UN Charter, peremptory norms of international law (jus cogens), and obligations under international humanitarian law.

4. Entrenches institutionalized discrimination

Under domestic Israeli law, moves towards further “annexation” of Palestinian territory would mean a continuation of Israeli settlement expansion. It would also further entrench policies of institutionalized discrimination and mass human rights violations that Palestinians face in the OPT as a result of the occupation, including systematic denial of civil and political rights of Palestinians, as well as violations of other rights such as freedom of movement,  equality and non-discrimination.

5. Amounts to ‘war crimes’

Israel’s policy of settling its civilians in occupied Palestinian territory and displacing the local Palestinian population continues to contravene fundamental rules of international humanitarian law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” It also prohibits “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory.”

Settlements are created with the sole purpose of permanently establishing Israeli civilians on occupied land; this is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and “annexation” has no bearing on this legal determination.

Recently, dozens of UN experts have voiced concerns that the proposed annexation plan would create a “21st century apartheid”.

6. Must be rejected by the international community

Members of the international community must enforce international law and re-state that “annexation” of any part of the occupied West Bank is null and void. They must also work to immediately stop the construction or expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and related infrastructure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As a first step they should end all trade with Israeli settlements by banning settlement products and stopping companies domiciled in their territories from operating in or with settlements.

The international community should also reject the so-called “deal of the century”, and any other proposal seeking to undermine Palestinians’ human rights, including the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Amnesty supports the opening of an International Criminal Court Investigation into the situation in the OPT and calls on governments to offer their full political and practical support to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as it decides on its jurisdiction over the “situation in Palestine”.

7. Does not change Israel’s legal obligations as an occupying power

“Annexation” does not change the main two international legal regimes that apply to the OPT. The situation is primarily governed by both international humanitarian law (including the rules of the law of occupation) and international human rights law. International criminal law is also relevant as some serious violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity. Annexation is unlawful under international law and is therefore “null and void and without international legal effect.” 

It would not change the legal status of the territory under international law as occupied, nor remove Israel’s responsibilities as the occupying power. According to Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived of their rights as the result of the occupation nor by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power, nor by any annexation by the Occupying Power of the whole or part of the occupied territory.”

8. Other serious implications

“Annexation” can have serious implications. For example, the residency and citizenship status of Palestinians in the proposed annexed territory is not yet clear. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said publicly that Palestinian residents in the areas to be “annexed” would not be given Israeli citizenship.

“Annexation” would also likely result in the mass expropriation of privately-owned Palestinian land and expropriation of other private property. The “annexation” of Israeli settlements will probably include the expropriation of agricultural lands owned by Palestinians in the OPT.

It deepens violations of the right to adequate housing. Israel’s “annexation” plan places individuals and communities – particularly communities in villages which are unrecognized by Israel – at risk of expulsion or targeting for home demolitions, especially if they fall within any “annexed” area.

The “annexation” of large parts of the West Bank would also further limit Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Many of the existing restrictions are directly linked to the settlements, including restrictions aimed at protecting the settlements and maintaining “buffer zones.”

The ongoing illegal blockade on Gaza and continuing separation of that part of the OPT from the rest works to entrench the fragmentation of the occupied population and is major factor in facilitating the “annexation” of parts of the West Bank.

9. Has provoked the following response from the Palestinian side

The Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs has commented that the “annexation” plan is “the most heinous public robbery of the occupied Palestinian land” and has called on the international community to impose sanctions on Israel. 

In May, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared an end to the long-standing security coordination between the Palestinian authorities and Israel in response to “annexation” plans.  The Palestinian Liberation Organization has called for the formation of an international coalition to confront Israel’s “annexation” plan.

On 15 June, senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said at a press conference in the Gaza Strip that the Israeli “annexation” plan should be faced with “resistance in all forms,” and has called for popular Palestinian actions against the plan. On 25 June, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, said that Israel’s plan to “annex” parts of the West Bank would be considered a “declaration of war” on the Palestinians.

On 1 July, Hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza protested against Israel’s annexation plan.

10. Has happened before

In 1967, Israel unilaterally “annexed” East Jerusalem and included this part of the city, as well as the surrounding area of 64 square kilometers, within the boundaries of the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem. The new municipal boundaries covered an area of 70 square kilometers. The additional lands belonged to about 28 Palestinian villages from surrounding areas and was delineated along specific coordinates to ensure the inclusion of maximum land with a minimum number of Palestinians.

Israel’s “annexation” of East Jerusalem, which remains part of the OPT under international law, has been repeatedly condemned by the international community through various UN Security Council resolutions.

Further, the Syrian Golan Heights came under Israeli occupation following the 1967 war. Thousands of Syrians were forcibly displaced from the Golan Heights as a result of the war and the occupation. Israel destroyed more than 100 villages, most of whose land was used for establishing illegal settlements. In 1981, Israel adopted the Golan Heights law which extends Israeli jurisdiction and law to the occupied Golan Heights. The “annexation” of the Golan Heights was specifically condemned by the UN Security Council in Resolution 497.