Montreal, June 20, 2023 — Below is a letter from Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly urging action in response to Israeli actions which amount to the attempted annexation of the occupied West Bank.
Dear Ms. Joly,
I am writing on behalf of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME, https://www.cjpme.org) to follow up on our letter to your office dated March 9, 2023, which did not receive a reply. In that letter, we expressed our serious concern that recent actions taken by Israel’s far-right government cross several red lines under international law and amount to an attempt to unilaterally annex the West Bank. In the three months since, Israel has accelerated its campaign of annexation, making an intervention by Canada even more urgent. We request a meeting with you to discuss the actions that Canada can take to address this crisis.
Our previous letter noted that Israel had given sweeping powers over the West Bank to far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, thereby transferring authority into civilian hands and outside of the purview of the military, in a move which was widely understood to amount to the annexation of the territory. Since then, Israel has expanded Smotrich’s powers over West Bank policy and has accelerated the process of illegal settlement expansion, demonstrating that it is putting its annexationist agenda into practice.
Illegal settlement expansion is a key component of Israel’s strategy to annex the West Bank. In the last 6 months, more than 12,000 settlement units were advanced in dozens of settlements across the OPT, almost 3 times the number of units approved in the year 2022. Israel has ‘authorized’ at least 10 outposts (effectively establishing new settlements) while another 70 outposts are “in the pipeline.” Israel’s budget for this year devotes billions towards upgrading settlement infrastructure in the West Bank, including outposts.
This week, Minister Smotrich was given significant authority over the settlement approval process, obtaining near-unilateral power to approve the expansion of settlements and on an accelerated timeline. As reported by the Times of Israel, this new policy “dramatically expedites and eases the process for expanding existing West Bank settlements and retroactively legalizing some illegal outposts.” There is no question that Smotrich will make use of his new powers; last month, he reportedly instructed government ministries to prepare for a doubling of the settler population in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) from 500,000 to 1 million.
As such, many human rights organizations, legal experts, and other observers are warning that Israel’s actions amount to a process of annexation which is already underway:
- As Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard writes, Israel’s transfer of authority of the West Bank to Minister Smotrich “amounts to an act of de jure annexation of the West Bank—and is a dangerous step toward entrenching apartheid within the territory.”
- A joint report by 17 leading Israeli NGOs including Peace Now and Breaking the Silence warns that Israel’s recent policy changes “will expedite the annexation of the West Bank, and will further cement the annexation of East Jerusalem,” and that these steps, “motivated by [the government’s] stated Jewish supremacy ideology, will also deepen the apartheid regime governing nearly all aspects of oPt Palestinians’ lives.”
- Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel warns: “All of the government’s declarations and actions demonstrate that its stated intention is not merely de facto annexation camouflaged in the framework of a temporary occupation but annexation de jure, in flagrant violation of international law.”
- Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, admitted to a parliamentary committee on March 28th that: “I have to express my own deep concern with respect to some [of Israel’s] activities that amount to de facto annexation. I think that's something we have to pay attention to as a government.”
We reiterate that Israel’s annexation and colonization of occupied Palestinian territory represents a grave violation of international law and the UN Charter and demands a commensurate response. Canada must assert that a red line has been crossed and act accordingly to hold Israeli authorities for these crimes. Canada must act immediately to:
- Condemn Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank as acts of annexation;
- Prohibit trade and all dealings with businesses and entities related to Israeli settlements and annexation in the OPT, including East Jerusalem. This should include a ban on the import of goods from settlements, as well as an asset freeze on individuals involved in settlement activity and acts of annexation. Sanctions should apply to settlement leaders as well as government officials responsible for settlement and annexation policy, including Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister Bezalel Smotrich;
- Support the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its investigation of alleged war crimes in the OPT, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its inquiry into the legal consequences of Israel’s prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the OPT.
We request a meeting with you to discuss Canada’s response to this serious threat to Palestinian human rights and international law. I look forward to hearing from you regarding this matter.
Michael Bueckert, PhD
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East