Israel’s upcoming plan to annex portions of the West Bank has further strained relations with Palestinians and has resulted in an uptick in attacks against Israeli security forces. Palestinians vehemently oppose annexation as it jeopardizes the possibility of Palestinian statehood.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to pursue plans to annex portions of the Israeli-occupied West Bank in the coming weeks. Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz signed a unity agreement April 20, allowing Israeli lawmakers to initiate legislation beginning July 1. The legislation will extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank. Palestinians living in these areas are not likely to receive Israeli citizenship in the event of annexation. Rather, Palestinian areas would remain “Palestinian enclaves” with limited self-rule under Israeli security control. The proposed annexation has sparked international condemnation and critics widely regard it as the end of a potential two-state solution. Palestinians view the land throughout the West Bank as the basis of a future Palestinian state.
Basis for the Proposed Annexation
Netanyahu stated May 25 that Israel will not miss this “historic opportunity” to annex parts of the West Bank. The statement was in reference to US President Donald J. Trump’s Middle East peace plan aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump’s plan, officially known as “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” allows for the creation of a Palestinian state, yet it endorses Israel's annexation of controversial settlements throughout the West Bank. Under the plan, Israel would agree to halt further settlement construction for a period of four years while they negotiate a Palestinian state. Palestinians have widely criticized the plan and believe that the Trump administration favors Israel, highlighting the lack of Palestinian representation during the plan’s development as evidence of bias. Various Palestinian factions throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip held mass rallies and protests to reject the plan following its Jan. 28 release. An Israeli attempt to annex land in accordance with the plan will almost certainly prompt additional unrest in the form of demonstrations.
International Response to Israel’s Annexation Plans
Israel’s proposed annexation plan is largely dependent on US support and Netanyahu has vowed not to proceed without US consent. However, the plan faces opposition from the international community that has condemned annexation as an impediment to the development of a future Palestinian state and lasting peace. The UN's Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, implored Israel May 20 to abandon annexation plans, as it would constitute a violation of international law. Additionally, the EU warned Israel that the bloc would not recognize unilateral action, and the Arab League decried annexation as a “new war crime” against Palestinians, accusing Israel of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to impose a new reality. Trump’s own recognition of Israeli settlements via the peace plan constitutes a reversal of the US’ four-decade-old policy position on the issue. The peace plan is viewed by critics as the most recent in a series of pro-Israel policy changes by the Trump Administration. Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and later moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to that city. Similarly, in March 2019 Trump formally recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. Palestinians do not view the US as a neutral party and in 2017 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas severed ties with the US.
Abbas declared May 19 that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had terminated all agreements and security cooperation with Israel and the US, citing the proposed annexation as the reason behind the declaration. The PLO voted to end all agreements with Israel and the US in 2018 but left the decision up to Abbas as to when to implement the measure. While Abbas has threatened to end cooperation with Israel and the US numerous times in the past, Israeli media confirmed May 28 that Palestinian authorities are indeed ceasing cooperation. The recent tensions and a series of security attacks against Israeli citizens and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), including stabbings and car-ramming incidents, prompted the US Embassy in Jerusalem to issue a security alert advising US citizens to exercise increased vigilance in the Palestinian Territories in anticipation of further violence. Proceeding with annexation is likely to incite widespread Palestinian opposition, as it directly threatens the prospect of Palestinian statehood, and could even bring about another intifada or uprising.
Concerns Moving Forward
The annexation of parts of the West Bank could sever Israel’s ties with some Muslim-majority countries and raise wider security concerns within the Middle East region. The controversial nature of the proposal and the lack of widespread international support could hurt Israel’s diplomatic relations with some western countries. If Israel moves forward with the annexation plans, it would have no choice but to confront the status of Palestinians living within the West Bank. Social unrest in the form of demonstrations will likely increase in frequency within Palestinian communities.
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