By Laura Fernández Palomo
Ramallah, the West Bank, Jul 10 (efe-epa).- Palestinian settlement minister Walid Assaf does not buy into Israel’s attempts to downplay its plans to annex swathes of occupied territory in the West Bank.
In his opinion the United States-backed proposal, wholly rejected by the Palestinian authorities, should be scrapped altogether and both parties should return to the negotiating table with a blank slate.
Assaf’s unusual job post — the head of the National Commission against the Annexation Wall and Colonies — reflects the unique complexities of the situation in the region.
Israel’s government also has a settlement ministry, but its job, contrary to Assaf’s, is to protect Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Assaf’s job does not hinge directly on the Palestinian National Authority but rather the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which also represents the Palestinian diaspora and handles negotiations with Israel.
The proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank still does not have a start date, but Assaf believes Israel has been laying the groundwork for such a move since its 1967 occupation of the territory.
QUESTION: What do you know about the proposed annexation map?
ANSWER: The annexation map announced by (US President Donald) Trump in the Deal of the Century brings together different maps proposed by (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, according to different Israeli media. It means Palestine will be a collection of cantons or islands separated by military checkpoints that will completely control the life of Palestinians. Israel has taken a lot of measures in the last 50 years to get to this point.
Q: Such as?
A: What has it done to get here? First of all it declared closed military areas in the center of the Jordan Valley, which Palestinians can’t access or use. Later it created nature reserves. Israel has planned to control the entire area since 1967 and that’s what’s happening now. The whole of the “nature reserves,” the military zones and everything else it announced which will be that Israel needs the whole Jordan Valley.
Q: What will happen to the Palestinian populations in these areas?
A: Israel doesn’t want to annex the populations, it wants to displace them. That means annexing uninhabited territory, surrounding towns and cities and taking control of empty places and irrigated farmland, which would keep the local residents closed-off and isolated and push them from their land. It also wants to alter the demographics of Palestine.
Q: What’s the difference between annexation and prolonged occupation?
A: With the annexation, the occupation goes from being temporary to permanent and a permanent occupation is colonization. Occupation is banned by international law and colonization is a war crime. Israel wants to take the land and exploit the natural resources. Controlling Palestine’s natural resources is true colonization. Israel already makes money off our lands.
Q: What is the West Bank like today?
A: Nowadays there are 747 control points and security entrances isolating Palestinian cities from one another and this (annexation) will turn Palestinian life into a torture. Israel will control the movement of people and goods in a bid to also control the Palestinian economy and prevent the establishment of a state. With these policies, Israel is pushing the region towards an explosion, towards war, not peace.
Q: What alternatives have you tabled?
A: We are still open to negotiations, but they must be based on international law, international resolutions and the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and not on the ‘Deal of a Century.’ We will not accept any negotiation based on that. Palestinian leaders will work to prevent the cancellation of the Oslo Accords, which remain in place. The Palestinian Liberation Organization took part in those negotiations to secure a state alongside Israel, but it is impossible when Israel looks to remain in these lands, and those Accords will collapse.
Q: Is the Palestinian National Authority in danger? Could it disappear as some have said?