Israel’s plan to formally annex areas of the West Bank will have a devastating impact on Palestinian communities that will be difficult to recover from, global humanitarian and anti-poverty organization Oxfam warned today. Annexation of any West Bank land would throw Palestinian families into a state of limbo as their human rights, economic well-being, and regional peace and security hang in the balance.
Oxfam urges the international community to firmly stand in solidarity with Palestinians and in line with international law by swiftly rejecting Israel’s planned annexation of any West Bank territory and to make clear what repercussions may follow should they proceed with annexation.
“This serious—and likely irreversible— plan to acquire occupied territory by force is a violation of the most basic principles of international law. Whether annexation takes place today or tomorrow, incrementally or in swathes, it will throw Palestinian families into indefinite limbo,” said Shane Stevenson, Oxfam’s Country Director in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
Years of unchecked construction of Israeli settlements and the roads and security infrastructure that support them have robbed Palestinians of their land, water, and other natural resources, threatened access to education, healthcare, and other essential services, and undermined the viability of a future Palestinian state. The unilateral annexation of Palestinian territory would go a step further, violating a foundational rule of international law and undo decades of US- and European-led efforts to broker a just and peaceful solution to the conflict. It will also likely escalate tensions and violence between Israelis and Palestinians as the additional threat of COVID-19 looms.
Up to 150 Palestinian municipalities, excluding those within East Jerusalem’s borders, may fall within the annexed areas. These villages and hamlets are home to 140,000 people whose lives will be effectively controlled by a government which does not represent them or offer them civic rights, including the opportunity to vote for the leaders or policies that will govern them. Palestinians living in areas of East Jerusalem beyond the Wall could potentially lose their residency status in Jerusalem - and with it, access to the city and its social services. Their years of salary deductions and compulsory contributions to social security would likely be forfeited.
The application of Israeli law to communities already isolated by years of settlement expansion would make thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank even more vulnerable, separating families and allowing for a dramatic increase in the demolition of homes, schools, and other community buildings. 30,000 Bedouins and herders, most of whom are refugees, will face extraordinary economic and physical pressure to leave annexed areas where they have lived for decades.
The economic impacts of settlement expansion have also been devastating as Palestinians have been cut off from opportunities to earn money to support their families or reinvest in their businesses and communities. Annexation would do even more serious economic damage. The annexation of the Jordan Valley in particular, the most fertile and resource-rich area in the West Bank, would undermine the economic viability of any future Palestinian state.
Annexation will also further entrench Israel’s development of separate road systems for Palestinians and Israelis, with Palestinians facing the sort of detours, restrictions, and full denials of movement within the West Bank that make reaching school, work, or simply going about daily life arduous, or in some cases, impossible.
“Annexation has been happening my entire life. Our history is marked by loss. So many lives, destinies and names lost. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, said Abu Saleh, 98, of Rantis in the West Bank. “They cannot take a people and leave them locked up. I believe anything can happen. The one thing I am sure of is the annexation is not in our favor. I truly and deeply feel Palestinian and a protector of my homeland. I feel it in my heart and in my consciousness. Believe strongly in your homeland - This is what I tell my young.”
The international community should make it clear that any current or future annexation will have significant consequences for Israel’s global standing. At the very least, countries must uphold their international legal obligations. This would include continuing to identify annexed land as occupied Palestinian territory rather than part of the State of Israel and demanding that Israel fulfill its obligations to Palestinians under international law.
All countries should undertake a proportionate diplomatic response, including by conducting a review of all cooperation agreements with Israel to ensure that they are not supporting annexation.
Countries that provide bilateral assistance to Israel must limit or place conditions on any such assistance that would support annexation, in line with their international legal obligations to not support the occupation or recognize unlawful annexation.
Stevenson continued, “Shame on those world leaders who did so little to give Palestinians any hope of a life of freedom, prosperity and peace. It would be nothing less than a reversal of decades and billions of dollars of development and humanitarian work.”
Notes to Editors:
- Supporting photography and quotes from impacted Palestinians are available upon request
- Oxfam has been working in the region since the 1950s and established a country office in the 1980s. We work in the most vulnerable communities in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and Area C with more than 60 Palestinian and Israeli partner organizations to respond to humanitarian crises, to help communities to earn a living and access resources like food, water and education, and to build a strong civil society.