Israel’s Annexation Plans of West Bank May Become A Source of Instability

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


The objective of the Israeli government regarding the annexation of territory in the West Bank has never been in doubt. Emboldened by the US president’s tacit approval as outlined in the US government’s ‘Deal of the Century’, Mr. Netanyahu has decided to speed up the annexation process. However, a recent visit by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, appears to have put such plans in ice. Israel’s intentions have also been met with skepticism and even anger from a number of actors including the European Union. Finally, should the Israeli prime minister decide to move forward with the plans, he will do so knowing that a majority of Israeli citizens oppose his plans.

While Mr. Netanyahu may have the support of many Israelis on the right, opinion polls indicate that on the whole  the Israeli population appears to have a negative view of any possible West Bank annexation: “The survey, conducted by the Commanders for Israel’s Security movement (comprised of senior security officials who oppose the extension of Israeli sovereignty to Palestinian-held lands), examined a sample of 1,000 people from the Jewish public alone…. Some 21% of Likud voters said they preferred a permanent two-state solution, while 25% favor unilateral pullout, and 18% are content with the current situation. The survey also shows that most Jewish citizens, including most Likud voters, do not support the annexation of the Jordan Valley if the move would put a strain on relations with Jordan.”

Still, that has not stopped him from moving forward with contingency plans for annexation of Palestinian territory, while according to a recent Gulf News editorial trying to drive a wedge between the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and the rest of the region, suggesting that even “some Arab states had already given Israel their tacit approval for the plan. Netanyahu… is trying to propagate such lies to make his criminal plan a de facto reality by showing the Palestinians that they no longer have support from the Arab world, especially among the key Arab states whose support has kept the Palestinian struggle for independence alive…. Netanyahu is wrong in his attempt to promote his usual lies about a tacit Arab approval for his plans. Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is illegal and must end. The Palestinian Question is alive and will remain the Arabs’ central issue. Netanyahu knows that very well.”

One of the reasons cited in opposition to the government’s annexation plans is related to the status of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, which according to Yedioth Ahronoth’s Marwan al-Muasher would be at risk of becoming void should Mr. Netanyahu insist on moving forward: “[Jordan’s] King Abdullah must lead an intense diplomatic effort, appealing to the most powerful bodies such as the American Congress, the UN, and the EU to educate them on the move’s ramifications for the Hashemite Kingdom. If these efforts won’t bear fruit, and Israel goes ahead with its annexation plans, the international community would, at the very least, be aware of the desire of the region’s nations for peace as well as the effect that unilateral Israeli annexation would have on the entire Middle East. As far as the Jordanian response to the proposed annexation, it would not be limited just to condemnation or to a diplomatic downgrading of relations. It would be much more dramatic.”

Lest there are any doubts about the gravity of the situation, the Jerusalem Post staff published a statement by the Jordanian king where he issued a stern warning against any attempts to annex West Bank territories, adding that such attempts would “lead to a ‘massive’ confrontation with Jordan…. When asked if annexation will lead to the cessation of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, Abdullah said he doesn’t “want to make threats and create an atmosphere of controversy, but we’re considering every option.” On support of Trump’s deal by Arab countries, he said: ‘In the Arab League, the one-state solution is still completely rejected. When the one-state plan was published six or seven months ago, his highness, the King of Saudi Arabia, said, ‘no, we are with the Palestinians’.”

King Abdullah’s statement was preceded two days earlier by a other Jordanian officials who, according to Jordan Times’ Osama Al Sharif, had already “delivered a message to the UN Security Council arguing that annexation of the Jordan Valley will be treated as a violation of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi made clear that annexation of the Jordan Valley violates the delineation of borders between Jordan and Israel as stipulated in the treaty. His argument was not made public to date. It is worth noting that Saudi Arabia’s cabinet last week also stressed that the Palestinian cause remains a “central issue” for Arabs and Muslims, while referencing the results of the emergency Arab League meeting which condemned the Israeli authority’s plans to annex any Palestinian land.”

Jordan is not alone in the condemnation of Mr. Netanyahu’s designs. As the Israeli observer Nimrod Goren points out, the European Union could decide that the Israeli government’s actions are ‘one step too far’ and may find ways to penalize Israel: “The EU is a strategic ally of Israel – in trade and economy, in diplomacy and security, in technology and tourism, in research and culture…. Israel has become accustomed to viewing Europe as a weakened entity in the international arena and to dismissing its protests. However, this attitude could turn out to be wrong if Israel decides to take a formal annexation step, which many in Europe would regard as a game changer. Key European leaders might advance measures within EU institutions and elsewhere that would exact a toll on Israel.”

Surprisingly, one actor that has remained suspiciously reserved is Hamas, which if Khaled Abu Toameh is right, may be assiduously avoiding a direct confrontation with Israel and the possibility of a Gaza-centric conflict: “What is certain is that Hamas does not want the Palestinian response to the Israeli plan to come from the Gaza Strip. Hamas leaders have stressed in recent months that, for now, they are not interested in another military confrontation with Israel…. Under the current circumstances, Hamas’s chances of triggering a new intifada against Israel in the West Bank are almost nonexistent. Hamas, meanwhile, is hoping that the Israeli plan would at least drive more Palestinians toward the Hamas-led rejectionist camp, which believes in the armed struggle as the only means to ‘liberate all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River’.”

The US position over the last few months has vacillated, but it is beginning to show signs that favor a slow-down of the annexation of Palestinian territory. Many saw the last-minute visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo precisely as an attempt to ‘put the brakes’ on any such plans. Globes’ Norman Baily also recently cautioned that the upcoming US elections may bring a ‘wind of change’ in the region: “[Vice] President Joe Biden, a moderate, is at this point almost certainly going to be the Democratic candidate, [and] can be expected to attempt to find a middle-ground which would likely end up resembling the Obama policies with reference to the Middle East, increasing support for the Palestinian cause and rapprochement with Iran, while maintaining military support for Israel but political distancing…. Israel will have to live with that, and a right-wing government in power in Jerusalem would not be conducive to good relations with the new US administration.”

Unfortunately, the challenges of the Palestinian people are not limited to those living in the Occupied Territories, as this editorial by The National reminds us: “May 15, is commemorated as Nakba Day – nakba being the Arabic word for “catastrophe”. It is a day to recognize the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people, and to reflect upon what can be done to alleviate it…. The extremist approach of denying Israelis their now-established state is unacceptable. But to allow such a state to continue conducting itself and relentlessly expanding in a way that causes perpetual suffering for others ought to be equally unacceptable. Arab citizens of Israel deserve not only full rights in the eyes of the law, but an end to the daily discrimination that disadvantages them in their own homeland. Palestinians deserve the complete restoration of their dignity and an end to the occupation.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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