As annexation looms, the Palestinians consider their options

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - As Israel heads towards the annexation of major parts of the occupied West Bank, the Palestinians are weighing their options as they see themselves entering into a new era where hopes for the two-state solution and independence may vanish for good.

After Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on May 19 that he will withdraw from all agreements with Israel in response to the annexation decision set for next month, Palestinian leaders are warning that they will dissolve the Palestinian Authority, the body that has limited self-rule over the territory if Israel moves ahead.

In a speech on Wednesday, Mr Abbas said that “the implementation of the annexation plans in the occupied Palestinian territories is an illegal step that will entail that Israel assume all responsibilities for the occupied land according to the Fourth Geneva Convention as the occupying power.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly pledged to annex the West bank on July 1. After annexing occupied East Jerusalem, Israel aims is to annex the Jordan Valley, the settlements blocs as well areas where there are isolated settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli annexation plan comes in conjunction with the administration's Middle East peace plan released in January, which designates these areas as part of Israel. These areas constitute over 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories will end any remaining hopes for a Palestinian state and will leave the Palestinians with nothing but isolated Bantustans and a reality of Apartheid, Palestinians and UN experts say. The Palestinians have been left with no choice but to consider the most serious response to Israel's policy yet: dissolving the PA.

“We have informed all countries, including the US and Israel that if Israel moves forwards with annexation, Israel will have to bear its full responsibilities as the occupying power,” senior Palestinian official Hussein El Sheikh told The National. “We are not agents for the Israeli occupation. We will never accept to play this role under any circumstances.”

“The existence of the Palestinian Authority is one of the outcomes of the Oslo agreement which we are now dissolving from. We will never accept the PA to be reduced to providing services," he continued. "We don’t want to do this. But Netanyahu is leaving us no choice.”

Palestinian protesters take part in a demonstration against Israel's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

Palestinian protesters shout slogans as they take part in a demonstration against Israel's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

Palestinian protesters shout slogans as they take part in a demonstration against Israel's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

A Palestinian youth walks down a hillside overlooking the West Bank city of Jericho. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a map of his plans in September, he pointed to a long blue zone to be annexed, leaving a brown speck in the middle: Jericho. Now the city's farmers in the occupied West Bank fear being marooned on a scrap of Palestinian land if Israel forges ahead with its plans to annex the Jordan Valley. AFP

Palestinian mayor of Jericho Salem Ghrouf speaks during an interview at his office in the West Bank city. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a map of his plans in September, he pointed to a long blue zone to be annexed, leaving a brown speck in the middle: Jericho. Now the city's farmers in the occupied West Bank fear being marooned on a scrap of Palestinian land if Israel forges ahead with its plans to annex the Jordan Valley. AFP

Palestinians pass by on a street of the West Bank city of Jericho. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a map of his plans in September, he pointed to a long blue zone to be annexed, leaving a brown speck in the middle: Jericho. Now the city's farmers in the occupied West Bank fear being marooned on a scrap of Palestinian land if Israel forges ahead with its plans to annex the Jordan Valley. AFP

Israelis hold signs as they protest against the Israeli goverment's plan to annex parts of the West Bank in Tel Aviv, Israel. Getty Images

Israelis hold signs as they protest against Israel goverment's plan to annex parts of the West Bank in Tel Aviv, Israel. Getty Images

An Israeli woman holds a sign as she protest against Israel goverment's plan to annex parts of the West Bank in Tel Aviv, Israel. Getty Images

Protesters, wearing masks of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partner Defence Minister Benny Gantz, take part in a demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to denounce Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. AFP

A protester, wearing a protective mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic, holds placards during a demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to denounce Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. AFP

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - JUNE 23: An Israeli woman holds a sign that reads "Palestine should be free" as she protest against Israel goverment's plan to annex parts of the West Bank in Tel Aviv, Israel. Getty Images

A financial crisis within the PA also raises the odds of it being dissolved, caused by both the coronavirus pandemic which has devastated the already-weak Palestinian economy, and a stand-off between the PA and Israel on tax revenues.

Last month, the PA rejected the revenues, which Israel collects on its behalf, after Israel conditioned the transfer of the money on continued coordination with the PA. This has left the PA with of one of its most severe financial crises since its inception as the clearance revenues represent around 63 per cent of its budget.

As a result, the PA has not been able to pay its 180,000 employees their salaries for the month of May, and the Ministry of Social Affairs was not able to pay its monthly aid benefits for the poor. The PA is also expected to take drastic austerity measures in the coming weeks due to the crisis.

Threatening to dissolve the authority, PA officials reportedly informed the Israeli military liaison office to the Palestinians, known as Cogat, that in the event of annexation, Benny Gantz, the current Israeli defense minister and alternate Prime minister, will have to pay the salaries of Palestinians employees next month.

Tareq Baconi, the International Crisis Group’s analyst for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told The National that the official Palestinian response to annexation has so far been one of deterrence.

"Preemptively ending security coordination and revoking agreements with Israel are both an attempt to show Israel what the cost of annexation might be and to attempt to influence the Israeli leadership not to proceed with these steps," he said.

In recent years, the calls among Palestinians for a single binational state as opposed to the conventional two-state solution have increased, but the PA’s leaders, however, voiced on multiple occasions that they want to stick to calling for the two-state solution as it’s the "more realistic solution" and as it’s "the solution that’s consistent with international resolutions."

While the Palestinian officials threaten to dissolve the PA, Israel continues with its measures on the ground in preparation for the annexation. The Latest of which, was on June 18 when the Israeli army placed cement blocks on roads in occupied West Bank villages that lead to the Jordan Valley.

All Palestinian factions condemned the Israeli annexation plans and agreed to initiate a program of non-violent popular resistance all across the West Bank in response. Although the Palestinians have to find a balance between those popular protests and coronavirus, as the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been witnessing a second wave of coronavirus cases in the past few days.

As annexation edges closer, Palestinians have appealed to the international community for support. In the past few days, multiple officials called on the EU to take punitive measures against Israel and recognise the state of Palestine.

Ahmed Majdalani, member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Executive Committee, in a statement called on “the international community, specifically all countries that have economic relations with the occupation, to stop their dealings with it, and to withdraw all investments in response to its violation of international law, especially in the ongoing process of annexation of the Palestinian territories.”

Updated: June 27, 2020 05:00 PM

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