In a dramatic announcement designed to grab global attention, the Palestinian prime minister has vowed that he will declare independence for Palestine if Israel follows through on its threat to annex parts of the Palestinian Territories.
Speaking from his office in Ramallah to an audience of foreign media organisations, including Sky News, Mohammad Shtayyeh said that the Palestinian Authority would unilaterally declare an independent state along the 1967 partitions, with Jerusalem as its capital.
“If Israel is going to annex after July 1st, we are going to go from the interim period of the Palestinian Authority into the manifestation of a state on the ground. That is where we will be heading in the next phase. This authority cannot continue to be an authority without any authority,” Mr Shtayyeh said.
“What does the manifestation of the state on the ground mean? It means that there will be a founding council, there will be a constitutional declaration, and Palestine will be on the borders of ’67 with Jerusalem as its capital and we will call our international community to recognise this fact.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to apply Israeli sovereignty to Israeli-Jewish settlements which are within the geographical area of the West Bank.
More than 700,000 Israeli Jews now live in settlements, ranging from small village outposts to large city-like developments, on land allocated to Palestinians as part of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. The settlements are considered illegal under international law.
Mr Shtayyeh, educated in the UK and a veteran of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, said the design of the Oslo Accords was based on a process of “incrementalism” in which the Palestinian areas, including the West Bank and Gaza, would over time become a Palestinian state.
The Israeli encroachment into the Palestinian territory and the pledge now to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements in that territory will cause irreparable damage to the peace process which began with the Oslo Accords, he said.
“This annexation is a total erosion of our aspirations. The annexation is a total erosion of the geographic place of the future Palestinian state,” he said.
“And the world has to choose between international law and annexation and I am sure the international community will choose international law and not annexation.
“We cannot anymore make ourselves blind on this critical emerging reality. We have to wake up and face the moment of truth and I think we are awake and we are facing the moment of truth for us as Palestinian leadership and that is why nowhere on earth that we can live with this annexation.”
In January, the Trump administration revealed the US president’s so-called “deal of the century” plan for the region.
It controversially declared that the US government no longer considered the Israeli settlements to be incompatible with international law.
The Trump plan gave approval for the annexation of parts of the West Bank and in return, over time, proposed the creation of a Palestinian State – but only on 70% of West Bank land originally allocated for Palestinians under the Oslo Accords.
The plan proposed that Israel give over other uninhabited desert land in the far south of Israel to the Palestinians as a concession.
“This peace process has reached a serious impasse and frankly I think it’s irreversible,” Mr Shtayyeh said of the Trump plan and the subsequent annexation pledge.
But he added that the Palestinian Authority would “…continue to maintain law and order. We will not allow things to go into chaos under any circumstances. I think the other side of the coin is support for Palestine as well”.
On Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will meet Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem and urge him not to go ahead with the annexation plan.
Germany takes over the rotating presidencies of both the European Union and the United Nations in July putting it in a uniquely central role at a critical period.
Mr Maas will also hold talks with Mr Shtayyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas, though he was barred by Israel from entering the West Bank.
The Israeli government cited coronavirus restrictions, a reason without logic given that movement for those with travel permits or foreign passports is constant at checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel.
It’s not at all clear quite how the annexation will look like on the ground. Mr Netanyahu has not revealed any details of the plan even to his own ministries or military who will need to deal with any fallout.
The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, will begin to discuss the issue on 1 July but Mr Netanyahu has this week hinted that he may push ahead with the application of sovereignty immediately after that date.
Mr Netanyahu’s annexation pledge has proved to be unpopular with liberal Israelis who question the point of it, as well as with hardline settlers who do not think it goes far enough.
Settler organisations reject the Palestinian state element of the Trump plan, which they see as a concession.
Last month, the Palestinian Authority cut off all its security arrangements with their Israeli counterparts, and last week it officially nullified the provisions of the Oslo Accords.
The move means that financial and tax arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians have been cut and salaries are not being paid.
Mr Shtayyeh admitted that what he called “Israeli extortion attempts” to withhold tax transfers meant that the Palestinian economy “is getting worse”, but he said he would “not haggle over our positions for money”.
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