Israeli annexation and a history of broken American promises

Israeli annexation and a history of broken American promises
Comment: Palestinian leaders have repeatedly gambled on the US to help them achieve their goals, to the detriment of the Palestinian people, writes Dalal Yassine.
6 min read
23 Jun, 2020
Israel has built approximately 131 settlements in the Occupied West Bank [Getty]
Last February, a joint US-Israeli committee began working to implement President Donald Trump's "Vision for Peace." The committee included the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and his Israeli counterpart, Ron Dermer. 

Among its tasks was to delineate lands in the occupied West Bank for annexation by Israel. The committee's work and membership demonstrated the deep partnership and coordination between the US and Israel. It also revealed the Palestinian leadership's lack of strategy or preparation for this eventuality.

For decades, Palestinian leaders have gambled on the United States to help them achieve their goals. They believed, with encouragement from Washington, that the United States was the only country capable of pressuring Israel to agree to territorial concessions and the creation of a Palestinian state. As Trump's vision has demonstrated, they have lost this bet. 

But America's duplicity did not begin with Trump. The United States has abandoned the Palestinians many times over the years. Indeed, their empty promises were on display 38 years ago in Lebanon. 

After receiving approval from Washington, Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982. As the Israeli army besieged Beirut, the United States attempted to end the fighting and secure the withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization's forces from the city. Through its special envoy, Philip Habib, the United States guaranteed the protection of Palestinian civilians.

Shortly after the evacuation of the last Palestinian fighters from the city in early September 1982, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat 
expressed his concerns for the security of the remaining Palestinian civilians after the withdrawal of the Multi-National Force comprised of the United States, France, and Italy. 

The United States has abandoned the Palestinians many times over the years

Later that month, Israel used the assassination of newly-elected Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayel, as an excuse to enter West Beirut. The Israeli military cordoned off the Palestinian refugee camps, closed the crossings leading to them, and prevented residents from leaving. It secured the entry of right-wing Lebanese forces from Gemayel's Phalange party into the Shatila refugee camp and the Sabra neighbourhood. The Israeli military oversaw the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians by the Phalange militia. 

From the roof of our home, my siblings and I watched the Israeli flares illuminate the sky over the camp not knowing for certain what was transpiring below or what was next for us. We learned, to our horror, the emptiness of American promises. And every time we saw a column of Israeli tanks near Bourj al Barajneh refugee camp, we feared another massacre.

[Click to enlarge]

After the massacre, the Americans returned to Lebanon claiming to act as peacekeepers. Instead, they coordinated with Israel and the Phalange and became another faction in the Lebanese civil war. We watched as the USS New Jersey shelled the Chouf Mountains in February 2003 claiming to target the Syrian army. The shock waves from its massive guns rattled homes and we could see the smoke rising from the mountains where the shells landed. 

However, Arafat and the Palestinian leadership did not learn the lesson from Lebanon. In December 1988, they agreed to recognise Israel and accepted UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Their reward for this major concession was low-level discussions with American diplomats that were eventually abandoned by the United States.

When Arafat signed the initial Oslo Agreement in September 1993, the United States and President Bill Clinton oversaw the ceremony. The Clinton administration coordinated with Israel on the interim and final status negotiations while Israeli settlements expanded in the West Bank. Meanwhile, Arafat boasted that Gaza was "liberated" even though it remained under occupation.

Trying to please his American mediators, Arafat negotiated concessions on the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and his advisors enriched themselves in preparation for the declaration of an independent state that never came.

While Israel and the United States share maps, the Palestinian leadership relies on theatrics

Today, the Trump administration has abandoned any pretense of mediation, negotiation, or the application of international law. Beginning in December 2017, it recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved its embassy to the city. A year later, it cut aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.

That same year, the US State Department stopped referring to the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem as "
occupied territories." In March 2019, Trump recognised Israel's annexation of Syria's Golan Heights. The Trump plan and Israel's annexation seek to enshrine these actions as facts on the ground in place of further negotiations and negating international law. 

Since it occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in June 1967, Israel has built approximately 131 settlements and 110 outposts. Their total population now exceeds 600,000. Although the international community does not recognise Israel's right to annex these settlements, which are considered illegal under international law, the Trump administration has given its approval. 

Read more: Palestinians face uncertainty as Israeli annexation looms and financial hardship persists

In recent interviews, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - attempting to reassure Israeli settlers opposed to the Trump plan - said that the issue of a Palestinian state was separate from annexation. He explained that any Palestinians living in areas annexed by Israel would not receive citizenship. However, Netanyahu insisted that Israel would maintain "security control" over Palestinian cities and towns. He added that the Trump administration agreed that the Palestinians must make concessions in any future negotiations, not Israel.

While Israel and the United States share maps, the Palestinian leadership relies on theatrics. They continue to hope that a change in the American administration in November will reverse Trump's decisions.

In 2017, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas publicly cut off contact with the Trump administration. But security and intelligence relations with the US' Central Intelligence Agency continued. For the 
11th time in the past five years, Abbas announced the dissolution of the Oslo agreements and the suspension of security coordination.

On the 56th anniversary of its founding, the PLO's Executive Committee also announced the dismantling and cancellation of agreements with the State of Israel. Similarly, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat recently claimed that contacts with the CIA were suspended.

Hiding behind their Covid-19 masks, Abbas and his advisors issue their empty statements. Yet no PA ministries have closed, no ministers have resigned, and no prisoners have been released from Palestinian security jails. And they have not explained what these announcements mean, how they are different from statements in the past, or what they plan to do next.

Meanwhile, Palestinians have no protection from Israeli and American coordination, or from their tired leaders.

The annexation of the West Bank - a key pillar of Trump's "Vision for Peace" - seeks to ensure the Palestinians will remain dispersed and divided. It perpetuates Israel's tools of oppression, control, deprivation, and history of denying legitimate Palestinian rights. And Palestinians as refugees, in exile, and under occupation and siege are paying the price for decades of failure by their leadership.


Dalal Yassine is a Program and Policy Advisor with Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network. She is an expert in human rights, refugee rights, and gender equality.

Follow her on Twitter: @Dalal_yassine

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.