by Bill Pearce
On 28 January, US President Trump held a press conference at the White House to announce his plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan, officially titled “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” calls for the incorporation of existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and East Jerusalem into the state of Israel, and for Jerusalem to become the undivided capital of Israel.
Soon after, the agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to form a coalition government in Israel included possible provision for a bill to come before the Knesset allowing the permanent annexation of Palestinian lands, along the lines that had been given the green light by the US Peace Plan.
This lopsided plan has quite understandably been rejected by the Palestinian Authority, as it does not begin to match their aspirations to turn most of the occupied territory into the new state of Palestine. It has also been condemned by many governments around the world, including most European governments, the EU and numerous UN officials.
According to the NGO Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), Canada’s response has, comparatively, been timid. However that changed following an open letter to the Prime Minister from over 50 former diplomats, ambassadors and Cabinet Ministers. Their letter pointed out that, “The unilateral annexation of territory is strictly prohibited under international law. This is a centerpiece of the Charter of the United Nations, San Francisco, 26 June 1945, and has been consolidated by treaties and resolutions, judicial rulings and scholarly writings ever since.”
On 30 June 2020 a letter sent on behalf of the World Federalist Movement – Canada also called on Prime Minister Trudeau to strengthen Canada’s opposition to possible Israeli annexation of significant parts of the Palestinian West Bank.
According to Bill Pearce, President of the WFMC Victoria Chapter, “If the annexation proposal is passed it will without doubt be the final nail in the coffin of the long sought two state solution peace plan. This will change the conversation to a question of what kind of single state will emerge, a state which cements de facto apartheid in which Palestinians are denied basic rights, or a state where Palestinians and Jewish Israelis are treated as equals under the law.”
The prospect of a new form of apartheid in Palestine – strong language for some – was underscored in a letter signed by 47 UN international law experts – all holders of Special Procedures mandates from the Human Rights Council: “What would be left of the West Bank after the annexation would be islands of disconnected land completely surrounded by Israel and with no territorial connection to the outside world. Israel has recently promised that it will maintain permanent security control between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Thus, the morning after annexation would be the crystallization of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st century apartheid.”
The WFM – Canada letter to the government also suggested that Canadian officials give consideration to adopting a position in favour of recognizing Jerusalem as a “corpus separatum,” a jurisdiction that would be administered by the United Nations. According to WFMC’s Pearce, who has written a legal history of the idea, “The Corpus Separatum was the basis for UN resolutions on the new state of Israel after it was created in 1948. The concept has never been abandoned by the UN, but was also never implemented. At the time, in the early 1950s, Israel didn’t go along due to security concerns.”
“If adopted, a corpus separatum would not settle the Palestinian – Israeli issues entirely. But it would help bring peace to Jerusalem and may well serve as a stepping-stone to a wider comprehensive agreement between the parties. It is difficult to imagine Israel agreeing to this without a lot of diplomatic pressure. But then again prospects for a two-state solution, which is the default position of Canada, most of Europe and many Arab governments, are also looking pretty dim these days. At least talk of a corpus separatum raises the possibility of a greater role for the UN – not a bad idea when the US government is looking less and less like an “honest brokers” of a credible Middle East Peace Plan.”
Ed. Note: As Mondial went to production, an August 2020 agreement to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates included provision for suspending temporarily Israel’s plans to annex parts of Palestinian territory on the West Bank.