Palestinians fear Netanyahu win is step to annexation

Netanyahu campaigned on building thousands of new settlements in the West Bank. (AP pic)

JORDAN VALLEY: In the Palestinian village of Ain al-Beida, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise election win has raised fears among residents that their land may be annexed.

The 70-year-old right-winger campaigned on building thousands of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as extending Israeli sovereignty into the Jordan Valley.

“Of course, we are afraid they will annex these lands,” said 85-year-old Majed Abu al-Hajj, pondering what restrictions await outside the confines of his home and small garden.

Final results from Monday’s election are still pending, but Netanyahu’s Likud along with its allies are currently three seats short of a majority in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

It remains unclear if the prime minister, who is under criminal indictment on corruption charges, will be able to form a government.

Equally uncertain is when he would move to annex the Jordan Valley if he secures a new term.

The strategically important region makes up about a third of the West Bank and Palestinians say without it their hopes of a future state are dashed.

The roughly 1,600 residents of Ain al-Beida, in the northern West Bank and part of the Jordan Valley, said they suspect Israel will annex their land, even if they don’t know so for sure.

They said more than half of Ain al-Beida’s original land of around 600 hectares is already under the control of Israeli settlers or companies.

US President Donald Trump’s widely-criticised peace proposals, unveiled in January, gave Israel the green light to annex the Jordan Valley and all settlements into Israel.

The plan was immediately rejected by the Palestinians, who accused Trump of blatant pro-Israel bias.

The Trump proposal called for a technical committee to finalise the details of annexations.

Netanyahu said that committee has already started work.

“We know that Netanyahu promised his voters to annex about 40% of the West Bank,” al-Hajj said.

“Nothing is in our hands.”

Palestinian anger

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told AFP Tuesday there could be “violence and bloodshed” if Israel proceeds with annexation plans.

The same day, several Israeli trucks carried tanks down a main street in the Jordan Valley.

Despite lacking a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu is expected to be selected by the president to attempt to form an administration after his Likud party won 36 seats, its best-ever performance with him as party leader.

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the right-wing Israeli Kohelet Policy Forum, said the election results would embolden Netanyahu to follow through with annexation.

“The overwhelming majority of those elected support application of Israeli law to Israeli communities,” Kontorovich, who advised the US administration in the drawing up of its peace proposals, said.

“The notion he lacks a mandate for this has been dispelled.”

International powers have for decades called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel – the two-state solution, though Trump’s full-blooded support for the Jewish state has fractured that consensus.

Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, warned Israel annexing the Jordan Valley would be seen by many in the international community as not just “pushing a two-state solution beyond reach, but also crossing the threshold into apartheid.”

Kontorovich said Netanyahu would simultaneously be seeking to form a coalition and progress with annexation.

“If Netanyahu can form a government quickly that will probably speed up the other process. But I think a couple of months is probably about the right timeframe (for annexation).”

In the Jalazone Palestinian refugee camp, Netanyahu’s victory has raised fears about the future.

Hassan Abdel-Hafez doesn’t know exactly how old he is but estimates around 80.

He had seen decades of strife, he said, but feared for the future.

“The coming period will be one of the hardest for the Palestinian people.”