Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to clarify his plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank as early as tomorrow. The move could be thrown into disarray, however, with alternate prime minister Benny Gantz reportedly suggesting Israel needs to deal with Covid-19 ahead of any possible annexation. Governments around the world have expressed opposition to Netanyahu’s plans and it is likely that Israel will experience repercussions if he goes through with them.
It is also being reported that the Trump administration is less than enthusiastic about an imminent annexation which could endanger its relationships with Sunni allies across the Middle East. That’s despite the U.S. announcing late last year that it would be shifting its longstanding policy on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The settlements have been established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Six Day War and they have long proved a contentious issue between Israel, Palestinians and the wider international community. In 1978, the Carter administration concluded that the settlements were inconsistent with international law. The U.S has long held the position that they are “illegitimate” though not inherently “illegal”, a stance which helped Israel avoid condemnatory UN resolutions.
The Obama administration adopted a tougher stance and in late 2016, it did not veto a UN resolution urging an end to Israeli settlements. The Trump administration has proven far more tolerant, however, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law”, also stating that their status is something Israelis and Palestinians must negotiate. According to data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics published by Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, the number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank has been rising steadily since the late 1970s, hitting 427,800 in 2018.
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