Israelis protest Netanyahu's annexation planEuropost
Several thousand Israelis demonstrated on Saturday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to extend sovereignty over parts of the occupied West Bank, de-facto annexation of land that the Palestinians seek for a state.
The demonstration was organized by the left-wing Meretz party and the communist Hadash faction of the majority-Arab Joint List, along with several other left-wing rights groups.
Nitzan Horowitz, the head of Meretz, told the crowd that annexation would be a “war crime” and cost Israel millions as the economy is already reeling due to the pandemic.
“We cannot replace an occupation of dozens of years with an apartheid that will last forever,” shouted a hoarse Horowitz. “Yes, to two states for two peoples, no to violence and bloodshed,” he continued. “No to annexation, yes to peace.”
Horowitz said annexation was “a crime against peace, a crime against humanity, a crime that will result in bloodshed.” He called out Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Economy Minister Amir Peretz, accusing them of “raising their hands and crawling to the other side.”
The three center-left lawmakers had pledged not to sit in a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing the premier’s indictment on graft charges, but after Israel’s third inconclusive election in March agreed to join him in a coalition.
Protesting in face masks and keeping their distance from each other under coronavirus restrictions, they gathered under the banner “No to annexation, no to occupation, yes to peace and democracy”.
The organisers screened a video address by US Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders.
“It has never been more important to stand up for justice, and to fight for the future we all deserve,” Sanders said. “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.”
The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in a 1967 Middle East war.
Netanyahu has set 1 July as the date to begin advancing his plan to annex Israel’s settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, hoping for a green light from Washington.
US President Donald Trump has unveiled a peace plan that includes Israel keeping its settlements and the Palestinians establishing a state under stringent conditions.
Palestinians have rejected the proposal and voiced outrage against Israel’s proposed annexation.
Warning of possible violence and diplomatic repercussions, some European and Arab states, together with the United Nations, have urged Israel not to annex its settlements, regarded by many countries as illegal.
Many of the protesters waved Israeli and Palestinian flags, with several dozen holding up pictures of Iyad Halak, a Palestinian man with autism who was shot dead by police last week in Jerusalem’s Old City. Police said they believed Halak had a gun, though he was unarmed and apparently did not understand the officer’s orders to stop.
After the protest ended, police said some protesters blocked Ibn Gvirol street, a main thoroughfare in Tel Aviv. They warned that if the demonstrators did not clear the road, they would be forcibly removed.
Ahead of the rally, Knesset opposition leader Yair Lapid dismissed Netanyahu’s annexation vow as “spin” meant to distract the public’s attention from his ongoing corruption trial and the pandemic-induced economic crisis.
“I think it’s spin by Netanyahu, who is trying to deflect attention from economic meltdown, including the collapse of independent businesses, and his criminal trial,” he told Channel 12 news in an interview. “I support the Trump plan. I oppose unilateral annexation,” Lapid added.
Saturday’s rally came amid a wave of regional and international criticism of the planned Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank under the peace plan being advanced by the Trump administration in the US.
Much of the international community has already expressed strong opposition to the move and the US has also recently indicated that it wants Israel to slow down.