Michael Sfard writes in Haaretz, 24 may 2020, “So, will there be an annexation? It’s hard to say. It’s not a done deal, but it seems like we’ve never been closer. The sense is that the most dramatic decision relating to Israel’s sovereignty since it declared independence won’t be made in Jerusalem but in Washington. It’s all pretty demeaning. The Third Jewish Commonwealth, it turns out, was handed to us with strings attached. There’s a landlord, and we can’t even close off a balcony without his approval.
Whether Israeli or American interests will dominate, it’s clear that Palestinian interests aren’t part of the equation governing the fate of their land. I’m not referring to the interests of the Palestinian government or the Palestinian national movement. I mean Palestinians who live in the West Bank and in refugee camps, who will be the ones most affected by an annexation.
I mean people like Kassab from the village of Arab al-Ramadin, squeezed in between Qalqilyah and the settlement of Alfei Menashe, or Nasir from Susya in the South Hebron Hills, as well as hundreds of thousands of others. Is anyone even asking what will become of them?
So, be aware that an Israeli-style annexation is above all a move leading to dispossession and expulsion. It’s an aggressive real estate maneuver. The land to be annexed includes areas owned by Palestinians, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that all these areas, to the last plot, will be expropriated – some immediately, some in a process lasting years.
How will this be done? Via two main legal methods; first, the Absentees’ Property Law. This law was passed in 1950 to nationalize Palestinian refugees’ property. Once applied to an annexed area, it will lead to the expropriation of all land there owned by Palestinians living in Jordan, Syria or Lebanon. West Bank residents who own property in the annexed area could also lose their assets because, technically, they too will become “absentees.”
This is what West Bankers who own property in East Jerusalem faced after Israeli law was applied there. Although the High Court of Justice ruled that this fictitious “absenteeism” (since these people did not immigrate and are under Israeli rule) should only be invoked in very exceptional cases, you don’t need a crystal ball to see what lies ahead. You only have to be familiar with the record of High Court rulings on occupation-related cases, and with the court’s transformation in recent years, to realize that High Court judges in coming years will expand these exceptions until they, like others allowing the violation of Palestinian rights, become the rule.
Even in cases where the “absentee” law will not apply, Israel will be able to do what it couldn’t do over the past 53 years, namely, to apply “ordinary” expropriation for public use (eminent domain) – the “public” being the settlers. The legal prohibition on expropriating private Palestinian land for settlements’ expansion – a principle already eroded by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in recent years – will evaporate once this territory is annexed. The annexation will unleash a tsunami of dispossession for the purpose of expanding settlements.
That’s why communities such as Khan al-Ahmar and Susya are under threat of deportation even now. If these areas are annexed to Israel, dozens of communities that Israel does not recognize and residents registered as living outside the annexed territory will immediately become illegal residents in their own homes. They will suddenly find themselves in an expanded Israel with the sword of deportation hanging over their heads. Their deportation will change from being an issue of unpermitted construction to one of removing illegal aliens from Israel’s sovereign territory.
In the ‘80s, the settlement of Alfei Menashe sprouted up next to them, taking over most of their grazing lands. In the 2000s, they were surrounded by the separation barrier that was built along most of the 1967 border invading the West Bank to include settlement blocs, trapping them in an enclave and separating them from the rest of the West Bank. The village isn’t recognized by Israel’s Civil Administration, leading to frequent house demolitions.
In the past, when a village donkey blocked the road, the irritated Alfei Menashe council cut off Arab al-Ramadin’s water supply – to teach the Ramadinians a lesson. In recent years, the Civil Administration has exploited their dependence, making their lives hell to persuade them to move east of the barrier, a move that would make the enclave “Palestinian-free.” If you move, you’ll have nice stone houses, not tin shacks, they were told, but the people of Arab al-Ramadin adamantly refused. Since the village is unrecognized, the IDs the Civil Administration issues list them as residents of Qalqilyah.