Residents in West Bank settlement voice hope for calm
Ariel (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –
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The tranquil settlement of Ariel could have found itself a focus of global attention on Wednesday had Israel defied international criticism and advanced plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
But residents going about errands or sipping drinks at cafes were hardly focused on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would seek to expand Israeli sovereignty to the community.
"Everything is normal (today)" 25-year-old Or Goldenberg, a student at Ariel University, told AFP.
For her, the prospect of annexation was all about "bureaucracy and politics".
"As a resident of Ariel, it has no impact," she said.
Ariel, established in 1978 in the northern West Bank, is a settlement that resembles Israeli cities within the country's internationally recognised borders.
But the ethnically mixed community is also regarded as illegal by much of the international community, as it is built on land occupied by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War.
Ariel was one of the settlements tipped to be first in line for annexation, as opposed to so-called "wildcat settlements" set up more recently by hardline Jewish nationalists deeper inside the West Bank.
But enthusiasm for annexation appeared muted in Ariel, especially amid resurgent novel coronavirus cases and continuing economic hardship caused by the pandemic.
"Most of the residents of Ariel do not want unilateral (annexation)," said Gal Margale, 33, wearing a mask for protection against the virus.
Resident Shuki Argov agreed, saying the prospect of annexation left him with a "bitter taste", voicing hope for a continuation of "the status quo".
Netanyahu's centre-right coalition government had set July 1 as the date it could begin implementing US President Donald Trump's controversial Middle East peace plan.
The proposals created a path for Israel to annex roughly 30 percent of the West Bank, while negotiating the creation of a Palestinian state, with a capital outside of Jerusalem.
Those terms were rejected by the Palestinians and condemned by much of the international community.
- 'The dog barks' -
As Israel's self-imposed kick-off arrived, Netanyahu faced growing criticism about the prospect of any unilateral annexation moves.
He held off making a major announcement on Wednesday, but said annexation talks with the US and his security chiefs would continue.
Some West Bank settlers, like Migdal Oz resident Sara Brownstein, said she expected that Netanyahu -- backed by Trump -- would forge ahead with annexation, regardless of global condemnation.
"Netanyahu can do it, Trump has his agenda and he will support some type of annexation, so I believe in it," she said.
"The dog barks but the caravan moves on," she said, citing an old proverb to imply that anti-annexation pressure would ultimately abate.
"The threats of the international community have no importance."
© 2020 AFP