Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing worldwide condemnation for vowing to annex nearly a third of the occupied West Bank if he wins next week’s snap election. The United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union and Russia have all criticized Netanyahu’s plan, which he unveiled Tuesday. Netanyahu’s pledge comes just a week before Israeli voters return to the polls on Tuesday for new elections after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government following Israel’s April 9 election. Netanyahu’s annexation plan would crush hopes of an eventual Palestinian state. We speak with Noura Erakat, Palestinian human rights attorney and an assistant professor at Rutgers University.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing worldwide condemnation for vowing to annex nearly a third of the occupied West Bank if he wins next week’s snap election. The United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union and Russia have all criticized Netanyahu’s plan, which he unveiled Tuesday.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Today I am announcing my intention to apply, with the formation of the next government, Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Netanyahu’s pledge comes just a week before Israeli voters return to the polls on Tuesday for new elections after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government following Israel’s April 9th election. Netanyahu’s annexation plan would crush hopes of an eventual Palestinian state. Longtime Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the move would add to Israel’s long history of violating international law.
SAEB EREKAT: What Prime Minister Netanyahu said tonight about asking his people for a mandate to allow that will enable him to annex the Jordan Valley is paramount to a war crime. Annexation of occupied territories is a war crime.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Noura Erakat, Palestinian human rights attorney, legal scholar, assistant professor at Rutgers University. Her new book is titled Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. And Phyllis Bennis is still with us, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, written a number of books, including Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Noura Erakat, let’s go to you first in Montreal. If you could talk about, just respond to, what the prime minister — who knows how long he will be prime minister? — said — if he wins, he will annex a third of the West Bank?
NOURA ERAKAT: Absolutely. Thank you for having me this morning.
First of all, I think it’s important to point out, as you have, that one-third of the West Bank is the Jordan Valley. It’s the site of the richest sources of water — some of the richest sources of water in the West Bank, including the Jordan River Basin and the Dead Sea, as well as numerous springs. The World Bank has said that if Palestinians actually have access to these lands, it could be the Palestinian breadbasket, increasing their agricultural yield by $1.6 million annually. We are talking about a rich area where Palestinian farmers, where Palestinians cannot access, for leisure, for livelihood, for home. And this is what’s at stake.
The other thing to point out is that there’s already de facto annexation. A lot of attention is being placed on Netanyahu as he makes more bold and racist claims to his constituent base ahead of elections. But it’s important to know that this is not about Netanyahu. This isn’t even about the Israeli right. This is Israeli policy.
In the aftermath of the 1967 war, Israel declared 60% of the Jordan Valley as a closed military zone and off basis. They built three outposts, military outposts, in 1968 and, under a Labor government, built those into civilian settlements in the early 1970s. It was a Labor, Israeli Labor, minister, Yigal Allon, who declared that the Jordan Valley would be part of Israel’s defensible borders. It was Israel’s dove, Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995, who said that this would be part of Israel’s final borders. And it was under the Oslo peace process that 90% of the Jordan Valley came under full Israeli civil and military control.
What Netanyahu is doing now is basically taking this awful policy, this steady policy of settler-colonial removal of Palestinian and encroachment of Palestinian lands, to its logical end, which is to say, “Well, now it’s just ours.”
And it’s really disingenuous and dishonest to be angry with Netanyahu and his bold claims against international law and what is tantamount to a war crime, and not be angry with the fact that U.S. foreign policy has steadily created this fact on the ground, that the EU now, as it’s condemned Netanyahu and said that it won’t recognize these moves, still fails to apply sanctions in order to punish this policy, in order to deter it. Where there’s no condemnation of the fact — everybody wants to talk about the two-state solution, that’s been dead, but nobody’s paying attention to the fact that, since 1967, the Palestinian population in the Jordan Valley has been reduced from 320,000 in 1967 to 60,000 today. And most of those 60,000 are concentrated in Jericho, which is the Palestinian Bantustan in the Jordan Valley. So, this is unfortunate, but it’s also really disingenuous not to discuss it in the length and in the context of what has been steady Israeli policy and steady U.S. policy and international policy that has made it possible.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Noura, as you said, there has already been a de facto annexation. But could you explain why what Netanyahu is proposing will definitively put an end to any possible two-state solution? And explain the geography, where the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea — where they fall within the West Bank, and what Israeli formal annexation would mean for that area.
NOURA ERAKAT: Yeah, no, absolutely. So, the Jordan Valley, 30% of the West Bank is located on the easternmost border of Palestine-Israel and borders the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, which Palestinians have not had access to. What I mean by de facto annexation is that, since 1967, Israel has declared that 60% of this area is a closed military zone, which means that Palestinians can’t be on it. They can’t dig into water wells. They cannot access the water for agriculture, even for their own drinking purposes. Right now the settlers that live there, approximately 11,000 settlers, have access to six times as much water as the Palestinians. Israel has also declared 26 nature preserves. This is greenwashing, where they basically said, “These lands, we’re going to preserve for nature purposes,” but that really just means that Palestinians can’t be on those lands, as they continue to build up settlements. The settlements now in the Jordan Valley, the 37 settlements, 11,000 settlers, stand over one of the most productive settlement industries of agribusiness, the palm date industry and so on and so forth, that should be the object of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns. So, what I mean by de facto annexation is that, as a matter of fact, Palestinians can’t live there, they can’t go there, they can’t produce, they cannot have livelihood.
Now, as a matter of law, Israel is basically telling the world, “Listen, we’re going to stop this sham. It’s just going to become part of Israel. We’ll make it a fact on the ground. And it will be part of what we call the defensible borders, that Palestinians will have to accept.” And under the framework of the peace process, that’s exactly what the arrangement is. Israel has steadily taken the land. And because none of the peace process is regulated by any international law or by multilateralism, but instead is brokered by the U.S., which is Israel’s primary ally, they can then establish that all the land that they take is theirs, where they come back to the negotiating table and then say, “Palestinians, you must accept this or take nothing.”
That’s why this is, yes, a war crime; yes, this is really disheartening; yes, this is horrible; but this is also the logical end of a policy that we have stood by and watched. And instead of discussing this as settler-colonial removal, instead of discussing this as apartheid and racial discrimination, we have discussed this as a question of sovereignty and a question of negotiations in two states, where the objective facts on the ground lead that there has not been a Palestinian state, that there will not be a Palestinian state. What Israel has wanted since 1967 and articulated in the Allon plan and now brought to fruition is that Palestinians will be in semiautonomous regions, where they can govern themselves in Bantustans, and Israel will control the rest of their lives around them. And that’s what we’re seeing.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, the Trump administration recognized Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights in a reversal of decades of U.S. policy and in defiance of international law. Netanyahu later unveiled plans to build a new settlement named Trump Heights in the area to thank President Trump for his decision. And then, during a televised address in May, Netanyahu held up an updated State Department map of Israel, signed by President Trump. Next to the map, the word “nice” was written with an arrow pointing to the Golan Heights shown as part of Israel. Netanyahu said the map was a gift from Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 after capturing the territory from Syria during the ’67 war. Noura Erakat, if you could respond to the significance of all of this?
NOURA ERAKAT: I’m very glad you brought that up, because here we have the Jordan Valley, which Israel has created a legal fiction about, that there is no sovereign, and used its legal strategies in order to basically say that they can negotiate it and use the peace process and its alliance with the U.S. to take these Palestinian lands, steadily and surely, to fulfill a vision of a Greater Israel.
But the Golan Heights is different. There is no controversy over the fact that this is Syrian sovereign territory. There is no controversy over the fact that it should be returned to Syria. And yet we saw, blatantly, blatantly, Israel declare its sovereignty over the Golan Heights in contravention of international opinion, international law, a clear war crime. There’s nothing to be discussed.
And despite all of the condemnations, despite all of the law on the side of the international communities, including the draft articles of state responsibility, which puts a responsibility on third-state parties in order to react to this egregious maneuver, nothing has been done. Nothing has been done besides nonrecognition, which should tell us that much of what’s going on in this region from the international community, and not just from the Trump administration and decades of U.S. administrations, is a lot of theater and political theater around the Middle East, but very little political will to act. Right now there should be political will to act, to impose sanctions, to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
When Netanyahu came to Congress in 2011 in order to sabotage Obama’s Iran rapprochement deal, he also said that he was going to keep the Jordan Valley. And Congress gave him 27 standing ovations. And now Congress, which continues this legacy of being part of the problem, is proposing a bill that would criminalize BDS nonviolent protest in the United States, rather than reverse this course and actually hold Israel to account.
So, we can anticipate in the political theater of what Israel is trying, what Netanyahu is doing and promising to his constituent base, and have discussions about Greenblatt and Kushner and now Avi Berkowitz, but this is all a distraction. The facts on the ground are that Palestinians are living in segregation, in reservations. They cannot even access the Dead Sea for leisure. Can you imagine living near this, the Dead Sea, which people from all over the world travel to, and you cannot access it because you’re Palestinian? You can’t float in the water because you’re Palestinian. So we’re talking about an apartheid system, a settler-colonial context, that we’re not addressing.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Phyllis Bennis, we just wanted to bring you in. Noura Erakat just referred to Avi Berkowitz, and I wanted to get a quick comment from you on the snap election that’s coming up, Benny Gantz, the lieutenant general, versus Netanyahu, and the fact that the White House has just announced that the new Middle East peace envoy is going to be 30-year-old White House administrative assistant Avi Berkowitz. He is replacing Jared — he is replacing Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s former real estate lawyer. Let’s see. What did former White House spokesperson Hope Hicks previously describe Berkowitz’s duties as? “Daily logistics like getting coffee and coordinating meetings.”
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Going to get coffee.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, just the significance of all of this right now?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think Noura’s point is very important, that who is playing these various roles doesn’t matter very much. Avi Berkowitz is not just ignorant about diplomacy; he also was educated partly at a right-wing yeshiva, nationalist yeshiva, in Israel. So, you know, this is a consistent piece.
I think the more important point, again, from what Noura was talking about, in terms of the changes that are afoot in the United States, where there are some possibilities now — not yet Congress, but the shift in public discourse, the shift in media discourse, about the question of Palestinian rights, is a massive shift that’s underway. And things may become possible in the future.
What’s been different with President Trump in office, the blatant nature of his recognition, no one before was willing to say that the U.S. recognizes or doesn’t mind that Israel is occupying the Golan Heights. His official recognition of it did bring expressions of opposition. That gives us a way in to build that challenge, to build the movements for Palestinian rights in this country, that says that it’s not OK for the U.S. to remain as the enabler of this kind of settler colonialism, this kind of apartheid, the kind of occupation that the U.S. has indeed supported all these years. It is different when you have a U.S. official position recognizing Jerusalem as the sole capital of Israel. That’s going to be much harder for future presidents to reverse. So it does become important when it’s official. But it also means that there’s more people willing to say, “Wait a minute, this is not OK. It was all right that we stayed silent while this expulsion of Palestinians from their land continues. But when we do it officially, we have to stand up and say, ‘No, that’s not OK.’” So, this is a moment of opportunity.
The Israeli elections are not likely to change very much. The opposition, Benny Gantz, a former general whose campaign was based on a helicopter trip over devastated Gaza in 2014, where he commanded the troops that were responsible for the deaths of 2,200 Palestinians in that 50-day attack — that’s the basis of his campaign. So he’s no peacenik, running against Netanyahu. But it does give us an opportunity here in the United States to change the congressional and the political calculus, as they become forced to realize in Congress that their voters, their base, their constituents, are massively changing their position.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, serves on the national board of Jewish Voice for Peace; Noura Erakat, joining us from Montreal, Palestinian human rights attorney and legal scholar.
When we come back, we look at Newark’s growing water crisis, where thousands remain unable to drink the tap water due to lead contamination. Stay with us.