Several thousand Israelis demonstrated on Saturday in Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley and illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The de facto annexation of occupied Palestinian land has prompted the Palestinian Authority to threaten it will withdraw from all agreements with Israel.
Protesting in face masks and keeping their distance from each other under coronavirus restrictions, the demonstrators gathered under a banner “No to annexation, no to occupation, yes to peace and democracy”. Some waved Palestinian flags.
The protest was organised by left-wing groups and NGOs, and did not appear to have the support of the wider population.
Around half of Israelis support annexation, according to a recent opinion poll.
The organisers screened a video address by US 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 Palestinian Authority wants an independent state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in a 1967 war.
Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but two years later it imposed a crippling land, air and sea blockade of the enclave that the head of the UN humanitarian chief has called an “open-air prison”.
US President Donald Trump unveiled in January a Middle East plan that recognised Israeli sovereignty over settlements – considered illegal under international laws – in the occupied West Bank.
Trump said Israel would be granted security control of the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, where dozens of illegal settlements have been built over decades.
In return, Palestinians would have their own demilitarised state with a capital in East Jerusalem.
As part of a recent agreement to form a coalition government with Benny Gantz, Netanyahu can submit the Trump plan to his cabinet and Parliament as early as July 1 for possible endorsement.
Netanyahu wants to annex parts of Jordan Valley and illegal settlements in the West Bank.
The plan also envisions the creation of a Palestinian state, but on reduced territory and without meeting a key Palestinian demand of having its capital in East Jerusalem.
Palestinians have rejected the proposal and voiced outrage against Israel’s proposed annexation.
One demonstrator at the protest called for more solidarity between Palestinians and Israelis.
“In an apartheid reality there cannot be peace for us or them, nor can there be justice,” a protester, identifying herself as Eden, told AFP news agency.
Warning of possible violence and diplomatic repercussions, some European and Arab states, together with the United Nations, have urged Israel not to go ahead with the annexation plan.