Israelis fear West Bank annexation will spark Palestinian uprising

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Palestinians, some clad in masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have protested against Israeli plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank

Palestinians, some clad in masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have protested against Israeli plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank (AFP Photo/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Most Israelis think their government's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank will spark a Palestinian uprising but around half favour going ahead anyway, a poll showed Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to take steps towards annexation as soon as July 1, despite widespread international condemnation.

The move forms part of a broader peace plan published by the United States, although Washington has not publicly backed Netanyahu's timetable.

Fifty percent of Israelis support annexation, half of them only with US support, according to a new poll published by the Israel Democracy Institute.

Nearly 31 percent oppose annexation, while the remainder were undecided.

Despite the majority voicing support for Netanyahu's proposal, implementing his plan would very likely lead to an uprising, according to 58 percent of Israelis surveyed.

The most recent Palestinian uprising, known as the Second Intifada, erupted in the early 2000s and included waves of suicide bombings and deadly Israeli responses.

On Monday, Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered the army to speed up "military preparedness ahead of political steps on the agenda in the Palestinian arena".

The latest poll, which surveyed 771 adults in late May, followed warnings by neighbour Jordan and other countries against annexation.

The United Nations on Sunday said the move would breach international law and "most likely trigger conflict and instability" in the Palestinian territories.

- Hundreds rally against -

Annexation and the overall US peace deal have been firmly rejected by Palestinian officials, who cut diplomatic ties with Washington in 2017 after President Donald Trump recognised the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters rallied against annexation in Nablus, in the northern West Bank, carrying Palestinian flags.

"It's the start of an active movement on the ground to defy the decision by Israel to annex, a decision which undermines the Palestinian national project," said protester Khaled Mansour.

For Jihad Ramadan, the Nablus secretary of Fatah, the party of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Israel aims to "kill the Palestinian dream" with its annexation plans.

"But it's an illusion to think that they can prevent the creation of a Palestinian state," he said.

Abbas has on numerous occasions threatened to cut all security ties with Israel if annexation goes ahead, while trying to rally the international community to the Palestinian cause.

According to analysts, ending such cooperation could threaten relative calm in the West Bank, home to 2.7 million Palestinians and 450,000 Israelis.

The latter live in Israeli settlements which are viewed as illegal under international law, but were recognised by the United States in November.

Experts say the Israeli government has a narrow window of opportunity to move ahead with annexation, before US presidential elections in November that could see its ally Trump voted out of office.