This month marks 40 years since Israel implemented its 1980 Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, which was tantamount to Israel’s annexation of the eastern half of the city. This followed Israel’s capture of West Jerusalem in 1948-49. The path that was taken towards the city’s annexation then resonates again today: a steady process of land appropriation and Palestinian dispossession, clearly stated intentions by Israeli officials, and inaction by the international community.
In contravention of UN General Assembly resolutions, Israel declared Jerusalem its capital on December 5th, 1949. A few days later, to cement Israel’s position, then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion asserted that the international community should accept the change: “It is to be hoped that the General Assembly will, in the course of time, amend the error which its majority has made.”
The brazenness of West Jerusalem’s annexation during the 1948 war was met with impunity, leading to the continued dispossession of Palestinians from their homes and livelihoods. After the 1967 war, Israel’s new occupation resulted in the unlawful application of Israeli laws to Palestinians in occupied Arab East Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s continued annexation comes within the context of countless other unlawful Israeli policies, including the 13-year-long blockade of Gaza, that have sought to control and fragment Palestinian land and people. The “success” of these policies – due in large part to a lack of accountability and continued international diplomatic, trade and military ties with the Israeli state – has provided a roadmap and an implicit green light for Israel’s plans to annex other parts of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
The present US administration is amenable to Israeli annexation, having already unlawfully recognized Israel’s illegal application of sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. Following decades of impunity, Israel is now able to advance its colonial agenda with unwavering support from the United States.
The impending annexation has drawn sharp criticism from many countries, as well as discussions about countermeasures. However, the international community’s current outrage is difficult to reconcile with the years of inaction in the face of repeated Israeli violations of international law. Indeed, annexation should come as no surprise: Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have spoken favorably of annexation for years, and the Israeli Knesset has passed countless laws to facilitate such a takeover. While we do not know the shape of the forthcoming annexation, the international community has watched and supported Israel as it laid the groundwork for it, specifically in the Jordan Valley. Since 1967, Israel has been at work on the de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley through a steady process of illegal settlement expansion, natural resource exploitation, and the denial of Palestinian self-determination.
The blueprint for annexation emerged as early as the 1967 Allon Plan, which sought to expand Israel to include the Jordan Valley and connect the area to the rest of Israel through an east-west passage via Jerusalem. While it was not formally or fully adopted at the time, Israeli settlement expansion and the dispossession of Palestinians have loosely followed the Allon Plan (and subsequent Israeli plans such as the Drobles Plan, which called for settlement development in the interior of the West Bank).
Israeli military orders facilitated the illegal appropriation of Palestinian land and resources. These orders and other measures targeted so-called absentee property whereby thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land were seized. Israeli authorities, manipulated land codes to declare 50% of the of the Jordan Valley Israeli State land; closed off and confiscated the entire border area between the occupied West Bank and Jordan; declared nearly one fifth of the Jordan Valley a nature reserve; and established restricted areas, thanks to which Israel designated nearly half of the Jordan Valley as a military firing zone.
Notwithstanding their various designations, the lands stolen by the state of Israel have largely been transferred to Israeli settlers. With the support of the Israeli government, settlers have established illegal residential and agricultural settlements, industrial zones and tourism areas, which in effect prohibit Palestinians from developing and effectively using 94% of the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area. To maintain this de facto annexation, Israel has subjected the Palestinian population to home demolitions, the destruction of vital infrastructure, the denial of access to basic rights, such as the right to water and freedom of movement, and regular raids and attacks by both Israeli military forces and illegal settlers.
This unlawful reality will either remain the same or deteriorate further in the month of July, irrespective of whatever measures are taken to implement annexation. Action is long overdue.
One example of the international community’s failure to hold Israel accountable for the theft of Palestinian land and resources concerns products exported by Israeli settlements. While states are obliged to ban such products under international law, they instead provide a foreign market for their sale, thereby sustaining the settlements’ existence and growth. In 2014, the World Bank conservatively estimated that the value of agricultural products originating from illegal settlements in the area proposed for annexation added $196 million to the Israel economy each year.
Attempts to label products as coming from Israeli settlements have been inconsistent, and ineffective in deterring settlement growth. In November 2015, the European Commission issued an Interpretative Notice, which instructed that where an indication of origin is mandatory, products originating from Israeli settlements must be labeled as such. While France was reportedly one of the first EU States to attempt implementation of the Notice in November 2016, the attempt was quickly challenged and led to France’s Council of State presenting a preliminary question to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). In November of last year, the CJEU ruled that, where relevant, foodstuffs must indicate when originating from an Israeli settlement.
The CJEU judgment came within the context of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 of December 2016, which calls on States to “distinguish” between the territory of Israel and the “territories occupied since 1967.” Despite EU regulations, the CJEU opinion, and UNSCR 2334, there have been only minimal efforts to adopt coherent labeling or other initiatives consistent with the international legal obligations of EU states. Reflecting broader global inaction, of the 13 reports and briefings issued by the UN between March 2017 and March 2020 on the resolution’s implementation, only five included related updates.
Another area that not only reflects state inaction, but rather exemplifies direct efforts to sabotage accountability, is the case of Palestine before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Crimes presented to the Court can include those linked to annexation, such as unlawful population transfer and the extensive appropriation of property. Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Brazil, Australia, and Uganda are all states party to the Rome Statute that submitted amicus briefs to argue against the ICC’s territorial jurisdiction over the oPt, while Canada submitted a letter to the Court asserting a similar position.
Arab states have similarly failed to take meaningful action. Notwithstanding Israel’s targeting of Jerusalem – including the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound – and its Palestinian residents, several Arab Gulf States have increasingly normalized their ties with Israel, and peace agreements between Jordan, Egypt, and Israel remain unaffected. Given the level of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, including the seemingly “sacred” of security coordination, it is perhaps no wonder that Arab governments have been quiescent.
Following Israel’s announcement of annexation, PA President Mahmoud Abbas once again proclaimed an end to all agreements with Israel (although the Oslo Accords are largely moot given Israel’s failure to uphold them), and lobbied foreign governments to recognize Palestinian statehood.
The Palestinian leadership must focus its efforts on accountability through the ICC and other avenues, and demand that the international community impose sanctions on Israel for its illegal actions going back many decades, irrespective of whether formal annexation takes place. It is time for the international community to end its complicity in Israel’s colonization of Palestine, and for the international legal order to be upheld.