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The ‘Theft’ Of The Century Under The Shadow Of International Law – OpEd

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In late January this year, American President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner presented the long-awaited and notorious ‘Deal of the Century’, formally known as “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People”. The deal allows Israel to annex massive parts of the West Bank that previously belonged to Palestinians and are under the military occupation of Israel, post-1967 Arab-Israel war. The deal also lets Israel take over the land that was illegally inhabited by the Israeli settlers in the Jordan valley and Eastern Jerusalem. The peace plan also legalizes the occupied historic and holy city of Jerusalem to remain officially as the capital of Israel.

Under Trump’s so-called ‘peace deal’, the state of Palestine would be granted a limited set of autonomous rights. But before that, Palestinians would have to withdraw from claims on huge chunks of their own land. Additionally, they will have to fulfill some tough demands from Israel and the US. These demands include the demilitarization of all areas governed by Palestine, and back off from any claims in international courts against the state or people of Israel. The deal also urges Palestine to accept Israel as a Jewish state with all of Jerusalem as its capital and give up on its ‘right to return’, that guaranteed the Palestinian refugees of wars to live in their land in Israel.

Trump’s plan is as biased and partisan as much as it could ever be. Jared Kushner, the chief architect of this plan, who didn’t have any previous diplomatic experience, barely bothered to speak to any Palestinians. It is evident that the White House itself didn’t expect the Arab leadership and population to accept such crude and coarse terms and conditions of the deal. And that in the longer run, means they can continue to perpetuate the decades-old racist narrative that the Arabs are rejectionist and unwilling to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the problem. That was crystal clear in Kushner’s comments, “if the Palestinians don’t accept this deal, they’re going to screw up another opportunity like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence”.

The deal gives everything to Israel’s far-right, it had ever wished for. The plan gives rights to Israel to control Palestine’s borders, security, airspace, immigration, and the electromagnetic spectrum. It ensures that Israel controls all the Palestinian trade and does not let anything through, which may cause Israel a security threat. This deal also makes it clear that Palestinians would live in widely distanced bits and pieces connected by roads and tunnels that would be essentially controlled by the state of Israel.

Not a single provision of this annexation plan was surprising at all. The plan simply is a continuance of President Trump’s policy towards the Palestine and Israel issue, since the day he took office. Interestingly Donald Trump’s proposal bears striking similarities to the racist Bantustan system of apartheid.

The United Nations Charter and UN Security Council’s resolutions 242 and 338 unequivocally prohibits any country from expanding its territory by the use of military force. The previous U.S administrations made very clear that these provisions were to be the keystone of any settlement in the middle east.  But this proposal allows Israel to go the other way. Additionally, the Fourth Geneva Convention bars any occupying power from transferring and settling its citizens into territories seized by the use of military force. The convention forbids an occupying power from taking any action that may result in changing the legal status, geographical nature and “materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem and not to transfer parts of its civilian population into the occupied Arab territories”. The United Nations Security Council’s resolutions 446, 452, 465, 471, and 2234 have also univocally recognized the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention to Israeli-occupied territories, and so does a landmark 2004 decision of the International Court of Justice.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention also declares that “the Occupying Power will not deport or transfer parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Additionally, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 1998, describes the act of population displacement as a “war crime”.  So, Israel’s decades-old strategy to create “facts on the ground” and engineer the demography of the occupied of Arab territory, through the creation of settlements of its own population and displacement of Palestinian civilians by using military might and administrative powers are not mere violations of international law but are blatant war crimes.

The new peace plan also denies the “right to return” of the Palestinian refugees. There has been an argument that Israel cannot accept back the Palestinian people as it would endanger the demographics of the area and thus abandoning its Jewish or democratic identity. But the Article 13 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights confirms for every individual “the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state” and “the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.

The annexation of Palestinian lands will pave way for the unilateral imposition of Israeli law. This would result in many social and economic disruptions due to the abrupt shift in legal and social frameworks of society. The forceful impositions of Israeli norms on Palestinians will cause many professional disadvantages to the public such as to Palestinian lawyers who are not trained in Israeli law. The economic or moral objections to particular rules defined by the Israeli constitution and bias in Israeli courts, and so on. On the other hand, a dual legal system based on ethnicity may also disrupt the functioning of social activities. This dual-law system will subordinate the Palestinian law and the courts to Israeli legal supremacy. Annexation would formally institutionalize the legality of this regime, familiar in recent history from colonial regimes such as British India and French Algeria. Moreover, this dual-law system will surely convert the state of Israel, from the so-called only democracy in the Middle East to an ‘ethnocratic’ imperialist state.

Many analysts have termed that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories as “illegal” under international law and called it a form of Bantustan system imposed upon blacks in apartheid South Africa. Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, told Al Jazeera that “Israel’s settlements as a whole, the theft of Palestinian land and resources and the violence that is inherent to the imposition of military rule over a disenfranchised people indefinitely, are all against international law.” Mutaz Qafisheh, professor of international law at the Hebron University, says: “The plan offers a prescription for apartheid, racial discrimination, and colonial domination.”

Trump’s peace plan is not only a punch on Palestinian rights, liberties, and freedom but also is an attempt to put a foundation of a new world order that completely subverts the authority of international law. This plan is an evident attempt to create a “new two-state solution” without respecting the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and civil liberties. It winds up the previous diplomatic arrangements to find long-lasting peace in the Middle East through the creation of two sovereign and independent states. If executed, this deal will legalize Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories through the use of military might. The process might involve the creation of a Palestinian state, but without any autonomy or sovereignty whatsoever, perfectly in line with Israel’s ambitions of creating a state of greater Israel in the Middle East with Jewish identity authority.

*Hassan Aziz is a student of Law at International Islamic University, Islamabad. He’s presently working as a media secretary at Law Students Council. He frequently writes on regional security, political dynamics, and strategic affairs with special focus on South Asia, Middle East, and Indian Ocean regions. He can be reached via twitter at @H_AzizPK  

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