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Monday, 27 June 2022
Vaccination against annexation?
Ian Black

Joe Biden, the US Democratic Party’s candidate to replace Donald Trump in November’s presidential election, has a lot on his mind beyond the ever-sensitive issue of Israel and the Palestinians. Still, his positions are starting to attract close attention.

 Biden, who served as vice-president under Barack Obama for eight years, declared while campaigning recently that if elected, he would not reverse Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv. “It should not have been moved,” he said during a virtual fundraising event with supporters. “The move shouldn’t have happened in the context as it did. It should happen in the context of a larger deal to help us achieve important concessions for peace.”

 The US Congress authorised the embassy move to Jerusalem back in 1995 – when Biden backed the measure as a Delaware senator - but a succession of presidents from both main parties delayed the shift, setting conditions as part of ongoing peace negotiations in the wake of the landmark Oslo agreement two years earlier. “Moving the embassy when we did without the conditions having been met was short-sighted and frivolous,” he said. "But now that is done, I would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv." 

 Biden’s position matters enormously: the formation of a national unity government combining Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party looks set to lead to the unilateral annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank. That will present a formidable challenge for the rest of the world, especially the US, over how to respond.

 If Biden does defeat Trump, it will be down to him to decide what to do -  heading an administration that will be more susceptible to changing attitudes towards Israel. If Trump wins four more years in the Oval Office, delighting his ultra-nationalist supporters on the Christian Evangelical Right, all bets are off.

 It is no exaggeration to say that if annexation does go ahead it will be the final nail in the coffin of a viable two-state solution. Palestinians are already understandably furious at Trump’s open bias against them; not only his reckless Jerusalem move but a series of hostile measures including the closure of the PLO mission in Washington and the withdrawal of aid to UNRWA.

 The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described annexation bluntly as “an Israeli decision.” Not long after the president’s “deal of the century” plan was unveiled in January officials announced the creation of a joint US-Israeli committee to work on identifying West Bank areas to be annexed. Still, Netanyahu appears to be waiting for approval from Washington before deciding his next move.

  Trump wants Israel’s annexation to be integrated into his plan, drawn-up by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, which calls for formal annexation of all 650,000 Israeli settlers and some 30 percent of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. The combination of annexation and US support are seen as consolidating Israel’s grip over Palestinian lives, land, and resources and cementing the separate and unequal reality – many now call it “apartheid” - that exists between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

 Palestinians, though not without blame for their own debilitating divisions, are outraged. If Biden wins the Palestinian Authority will clearly expect to see significant changes from Washington, though they were disappointed by Obama and have good reason to doubt whether the next Democratic president will also challenge Israel by leveraging US aid.

  Still, if annexation does go ahead – from July 1st according to the Israeli coalition agreement – it will change diplomatic realities. One big question is whether Egypt and Jordan (their peace treaties with Israel dating from 1979 and 1994 respectively) will take anything other than symbolic action. And what about the Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE? Will it affect their increasingly visible though still discreet relations with Israel?

 Further afield, alarm bells are already sounding - though their impact is being muffled by the huge distraction of the Coronavirus pandemic and looming global recession. In the last few days concern has been expressed about annexation by the UN, the Arab League, Russia, China, US Congress members, and 11 European ambassadors.

 “These are positive indicators of change which remind us that the time to hold Israel accountable is long overdue and Israel should not enjoy the usual preferential treatment from the international community,” responded Hanan Ashrawi. “Israel must be sanctioned just like any other belligerent state which violates international law.”

 British MPs and former senior officials, meanwhile, also called explicitly for sanctions against Israel if annexation goes ahead. The direct comparison is with the sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014 in the wake of its annexation of Crimea. “Words are not enough,” they stated: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has ignored our words. We need to prevent his government from setting this alarmingly dangerous precedent in international relations.”  Annexation, in the words of one senior British Jewish leader, poses an existential threat to Israel as well. Testing times clearly lie ahead if the international community is to vaccinate against this destructive virus.