Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are facing pushback over plans to annex large swaths of the occupied West Bank as early as next month, with Israeli and Palestinian protestors taking to the streets to voice their opposition to the plans over the weekend.
Thousands of protesters gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday for a demonstration organized by left-wing activists and NGOs in Israel, under the banner “No to annexation, no to occupation, yes to peace and democracy”.
Some protesters waved Palestinian flags, while others held signs reading “Palestinian Lives Matter” and “Stop Apartheid.” Demonstrators wore masks and maintained distances between one another in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Towards the end of the protest, Israeli media reported that police clashed with a small group of protesters, violently arresting at least five people, and assaulting a Haaretz photographer.
US Senator Bernie Sanders addressed the protesters in a video address, saying “it has never been more important to stand up for justice, and to fight for the future we all deserve.”
“It’s up to all of us to stand up to authoritarian leaders and to build a peaceful future for every Palestinian and every Israeli,” Sanders said.
Head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh told the crowd, “we are at a crossroads. One path leads to a joint society with a real democracy, civil and national equality for Arab citizens … The second path leads to hatred, violence, annexation and apartheid,” Haaretz reported.
The protest was widely covered by Israeli and Palestinian media, who noted the event as one of the first strong showings of the Israeli left wing in a while, amid years of being sidelined by the growing right-wing in Israel.
Many, however, highlighted the fact that polls show that around half of Israelis actually support annexation, and that such a protest in the past would have drawn protesters in the tens of thousands.
In an Op-Ed for Haaretz, Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev commented on the juxtaposition of the protests with the Balck Lives Matter movement in the US, writing:
“One glaring gap is undeniable: The majority of U.S. public opinion now acknowledges the legitimacy of black grievances, while the majority of Israelis ‒ including most of the Jewish center-left ‒ continues to view Palestinians, at least those beyond the former Green Line, as a mortal enemy bent on their country’s destruction.
“Liberal Israelis may oppose occupation in principle, but their sympathy for the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is limited, to say the least,” Shalev continued.
“Most Israelis, including those on the center-left, see annexation as a death sentence for the two-state solution, which they view as the only course that would prevent Israel from turning into an apartheid or bi-national state. They may oppose the former on moral grounds but they abhor the latter because it would ultimately entail fulfillment of the overarching demand of their American counterparts: Equal rights, including the right to vote, which is seen as a death knell for the “Jewish state” they continue to identify with,” he wrote.
The protest in Tel Aviv came just days after the Trump administration reportedly asked Netanyahu to “greatly slow the process” of annexation amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis and Black Lives Matter protests overwhelming his government in the US.
Israel’s Channel 13 quoted senior Israeli officials as saying that during a conference call of senior US and israeli officials, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner urged Netanyahu to “downplay enthusiasm” for annexation.
Netanyahu has been doubling down on annexation promises in recent weeks, setting July 1st as the deadline to begin the process, which has been widely condemned by the international community as a grave violation of international law.
According to Israeli media reports, the first step in the annexation process would be unilaterally annexing 132 illegal settlements in the West Bank, home to an estimated 450,000 Israeli settlers.
The remainder of the territory promised to Israel by Trump’s peace plan, constituting nearly 30 percent of the entire west Bank, would reportedly be annexed at a later date upon agreement of territorial division by a joint US-Israeli “mapping committee.”
Palestinian leaders have relentlessly and vocally opposed the plans, with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announcing an end to all agreements with Israel and the US last month over Israel’s annexation plans.
Chief negotiator of the PLO Saeb Erekat has called on the international community to impose sanctions on Israel over its annexation efforts, saying “countries, alliances and blocs must systematically review of all agreements signed with Israel, to ensure that they do not contribute to the occupation and domination of Palestinian land and lives.”
Tensions between Israel and the PA are supposed to increase as July 1st draws nearer, with many anticipating widespread protests and confrontations across the occupied territory.