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On the Israel-UAE Deal and the Threat of Annexation

After months of threats, Israel now claims to have suspended its plans for a unilateral annexation of large portions of the West Bank. This comes as part of a new deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, supposedly to “normalize” relations between the two states.

Israel’s original proposals for the massive annexation sought to make more permanent and to formalize its illegal 53-year military occupation of the West Bank. The planned annexation would have further dismantled Palestinian towns and cities into small, disconnected enclaves, encircled on all sides by settlements and military checkpoints.

Despite this announcement, Palestinians remain under a state of de facto annexation: Israel already controls borders, separates families, cuts people off from their farmland, and curtails people’s freedom of movement. Further, Israel already denies Palestinians access to much of the Jordan Valley, the “food basket” of Palestine which produces up to 60% of vegetables in the West Bank. Over half of the Valley has been declared a closed military zone.

Aisha Saifi, a Palestinian activist and MADRE partner, shared with us the impact of such policies on women. “The Israeli occupation is one of the main obstacles facing Palestinian women in the labor market as a result of the closures, siege and barriers imposed on the West Bank, which prevent women from working in places far from their homes. Israel also impedes the growth of the Palestinian economy through its control of the crossings and borders. That causes the weakness of the local market and the lack of job opportunities,” said Aisha.

In June, a group of 50 United Nations human rights experts said the proposed annexation, like existing Israeli settlements, violates international law, and urged members of the international community to oppose the move. Yet, instead of treating it as an abuse under international law, the threat of annexation has now been used as a bargaining chip between states, notably without the input of Palestinians living under occupation.

Moreover, the new US-brokered deal between Israel and the UAE seems more focused on shoring up an alliance for war against Iran than on creating viable peace. Indeed, Trump and Netanyahu could still put annexation back on the table if it suits them. Netanyahu said he is "committed to annexing parts of the West Bank," only agreeing to “temporarily suspend” those plans as part of the deal with the UAE.

This deal was cemented at a moment where certain stakeholders needed a political win. Netanyahu faces charges of corruption and calls for his resignation, while Trump is grasping for a foreign policy victory in a pivotal election year. Now, the Trump administration has also gained new momentum towards an arms sale of advanced armed drones and F-35 stealth fighter jets to the UAE — showing how the deal is being used to further US profits off the war economy.

This January, Trump’s release of his Israel-Palestine plan — which was also created without any real input from Palestinians — essentially gave Israel the green light for annexation. Yet, Trump is only the latest in a long line of US politicians, on both sides of the aisle, who have failed to speak out against the occupation, push for a reduction or end to illegal settlements, or call into question the $3.8 billion in military funding that the US provides to Israel each year.

This year’s Democratic Party Platform largely continues that pattern. While it does oppose the expansion of settlements and the unilateral annexation, it fails to recognize Israeli occupation of Palestine. The platform committee also rejected a proposal to condition US military aid to Israel on human rights guarantees.

Yet, we have hope — because thousands of Palestinians and Israelis have been organizing to demand a peaceful, just future. As Palestinian activist and MADRE partner Aisha Saifi urges, “The American people must recognize that we are not transient in this land and see the clear violation of human rights. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands must end so that we can build real peace for future generations. The voice of women […] and human rights defenders must rise and there should be no double standards. Human rights and justice are the same.”

MADRE calls for an end to the occupation and reaffirms its solidarity with grassroots mobilizations for peace and human rights in Palestine. We also continue to support our partners in Palestine, women who are providing urgently needed humanitarian aid, critical medical care and community development. And we call for US Members of Congress to speak out against any renewed move towards annexation and to condition US funding on compliance with human rights standards — for Israel and all countries.

August 21, 2020