As Israel seeks to illegally annex up to (and possibly above) 30% of the West Bank, the possibility of a new major escalation with armed resistance groups in the Gaza Strip looms.
International condemnation has struck Israel in the past months, following the promise from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “apply Israeli sovereignty” to the West Bank, or annex the territory Israel occupies, in violation of the UN Charter.
However, there has been little focus nor concern for the 2 million Palestinians locked inside the besieged coastal enclave called the Gaza Strip, which is now considered by experts at the UN as being unlivable. The condition of the Gaza Strip alone should be something on the international communities agenda, but the current humanitarian crisis there isn’t the only concern.
In response to Israel’s declaration that it intends to annex large portions of the West Bank, came a strongly worded warning from the Gaza based armed wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam brigades. The spokesperson for the al-Qassam brigades, Abu Obeida, said that annexation is tantamount to a declaration of war upon the Palestinian people. He added that the armed resistance “will make the enemy bite its fingers in regret for such a sinful decision.”
Also valid to mention in this regard is the prospect of a joint plan to confront annexation from the two most prominent Palestinian political groups, Fateh and Hamas. On the second of July representatives from the historically rivalling faction convened in Ramallah (West Bank) for a joint press conference, in which they announced their intention to unify in order to confront Israeli annexation on all fronts.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Fateh led Palestinian Authority announced that they have cancelled all agreements since, and including, the Oslo Accords with the United States and Israel. This could mean that Palestinians may have more breathing space inside of the West Bank to confront Israel’s annexation plan, something that Israeli general’s fear will result in a spike in armed resistance against the occupation forces.
It is widely accepted that the capabilities of the armed resistance groups based in the Gaza Strip have significantly increased their capabilities of confronting the occupying forces. This has been viewed as the case since November 2018, when Palestinian armed resistance was able to foil an Israeli operation in Khan Yunis (Southern Gaza) and dealt an embarrassing blow to Israel, resulting in the resignation of the then Minister of Defence, Avigdor Leiberman.
But with the increase in capabilities, also comes the increase in the intensity with which Israel will bombard Gaza’s civilian population. A civilian population which consists of over a million children, packed into an area more densely populated than Tokyo, with no option of fleeing in the event of war. Currently 97% of Gaza’s water supply is completely undrinkable, Gazans live with an average of around 4 hours of electricity per day and have one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.
Under the current U.S. President, Donald Trump, not only has Israel not been dealt disciplinary blows in reaction to its hardline oppressive policy implementations, but instead has been rewarded. This gives us the reason to believe that perhaps, in the circumstance of war between Israel and Gaza, Israel would be permitted to get away with much larger crimes than it did in the past wars.
Moreover, at least 1,500 housing units are still awaiting the delivery of materials to be rebuilt from when they were destroyed by Israel during the 2014 war. If another round of hostilities took place, it would likely cause the mass displacement of many Palestinians residing in Gaza’s various densely populated cities and refugee camps, further exacerbating the crisis of homelessness. To add to this is of course the exacerbation of the multiple other crises, which could be severely worsened by an Israeli offensive, which have historically always sought punishment upon the civilian population of Gaza.
At this point, the United Nations and other international bodies should be pre-empting a possible catastrophe in Gaza and should not remain silent. The situation is already unbearable and the time to act should be now. If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is allowed his way, we may see a partial annexation of the West Bank, namely the Illegal Settlements and a military confrontation with Gaza may allow Israel the excuse to get away with partial annexation.
International public opinion will shift away from annexation, in the event of war with Gaza, and Netanyahu will be praised by many Western Governments on a historic compromise, which Israel could use as an excuse, with Joe Biden as President, to claim that the Two-State solution is still alive. As for Israel’s public opinion, Netanyahu can play it off as if he moved the country forward on his election campaign promise and sell his supporters the line that they had to pay a great price for the move. It’s almost a script that writes itself, whatever way it plays out, Israel will have a justification and the people of Gaza will yet again be left on their own.
Ultimately it is the United States that will dictate exactly how Israel will get away with its planned policies. This is why it is a worry prospect having Trump in the Whitehouse at this moment, a President that allowed Israel to act with complete impunity when it was massacring hundreds of Palestinian protesters as part of the ‘Great Return March’. Over 300 Palestinians were killed in the ‘Great Return Marches’, which began on the 30th of March 2018, not a single Israeli was killed. If Israel felt comfortable getting away with this, whilst receiving support from both Democrats and Republicans in the United States, what will it feel comfortable with doing knowing the unconditional support Israel receives from Donald Trump.
The bigger question now remaining, is whether Israel seeks to use the time it has left with Trump in the White House, as it seems likely at this point that Joe Biden will succeed in the upcoming U.S. Presidential election.