As the new Israeli government is sworn in, the government’s annexation plans continue to remain a subject of discussion and debate within Israel and abroad. As expected, the Palestinians have rejected out of hand any suggestion that any part of the remaining Palestinian Territories could be annexed by Israel. Regional leaders, including the Jordanian king and Saudi officials, have also spoken out against the annexation plans. Even within Israel there are many who question the wisdom of moving forward with the plan, although only few dismiss it off-hand.
Even though it was rumored that in the aftermath of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit Mr. Netanyahu would walk back his campaign promises regarding the annexation of large swaths of the Occupied Territories, Daily Sabah’a Najla Shahwan confirmed that “With the end of coalition negotiations this week in Israel, the West Bank annexation remains a top priority on the agenda for Israeli right-wing politicians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reached an agreement with his political rival, Benny Gantz, for a unity government to confront coronavirus, wants to pursue U.S. President Donald Trump’s so-called peace plan and annex large parts of the occupied West Bank....The annexation of large swaths of the occupied West Bank, with the full support of the U.S. government, will constitute a paradigm shift for those who have been fighting for a two-state solution.”
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the announcement, stating, according to an Al Wafa post, that the Palestinians no longer feel bound by long-standing agreements with the Israelis and declaring an “end to the agreements and understandings signed with Israel and the United States and turned over responsibility over the occupied territories back to Israel.... The Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Palestine are absolved, as of today, of all the agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the obligations based on these understandings and agreements, including the security ones.... The Israeli occupation authority, as of today, has to shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power over the territory of the occupied state of Palestine, with all its consequences and repercussions based on international law and international humanitarian law'.”
Others in the region have also expressed their opposition to the Israeli plans, with the Saudi foreign ministry stressing “the Kingdom’s condemnation of any unilateral measures, and of any violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and of all that might undermine the chances of resuming the peace process to achieve security and stability in the region.... Saudi Arabia also affirmed its “support for efforts to advance negotiations in accordance with the international laws, to reach a just and comprehensive solution that meets the aspirations of the Palestinian brotherly people.”
That message was echoed by Jordan’s King Abdullah who, according to a recent Jordan Times editorial, “reaffirmed Jordan’s firm position that the two-state solution is the only viable way to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.... Jordan has not retreated one iota from its pursuit of Middle East peace and has not budged on the inalienable rights of Palestinians.... Jordan has sounded a clarion call urging the revival of the moribund peace process, underscoring the dangers emanating from a one-state solution that would result in an apartheid state. To prevent a further deterioration of the Palestinian file, the international community must galvanize efforts to end the Israeli occupation and its unabashed defiance of international law, and breathe new life into the peace process based on the two-state solution.”
Some, including the Arab News’s Daoud Kuttab, doubt that Israel really intends to go through with the annexation plan, asserting that despite Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu’s rhetoric, the Israeli prime minister “really likes his international buddies, probably more so than most of his political partners.... The prediction that annexation will not take place in July is not wishful thinking or a call to let down the political guard. On the contrary, it is testament to the Palestinians, Arabs and Europeans’ power and influence, which should now be used not simply to stop the annexation, but to end the occupation.... It is high time that a national, regional and international strategy was implemented to end the occupation and establish an independent and democratic state of Palestine to live in peace with its neighbors.”
Meanwhile, in Israel, the government’s plans have received a mixed reception. For example, a Jerusalem Post editorial considers the debate on annexation more a matter of political expediency rather than a long-term government strategy: “For Israel, the current discussions about annexation and US President Donald Trump’s peace plan appear more focused on the short-term domestic political gain associated with the coalition, than they do about the historic choice that changes more than fifty years of Israeli policy. But annexation cannot stand on its own.... Annexing parts of the West Bank – whether just a few settlements or up to 30% of it as seems to be the plan, whether in the Jordan Valley or Gush Etzion – must be done as part of a strategy, not just as an ad-hoc approach.”
Writingin Yedioth Ahronoth, Eytal Gilboa looks beyond the political fall-out and considers the legal implications of the possible annexation, especially in light of the recent decision by the International Criminal Court to open an investigation regarding possible Israeli breaches of international law: “the assistance of the U.S. and other nations is critical. There is no assurance that Donald Trump will be reelected as president in November or what will be the balance of power between Democrats and Republics in Congress. America's help against Bensouda and the ICC is important, but it is not enough. Israel must launch a long and hard and campaign, using all the diplomatic and judicial tools at its disposal. Former IDF chief and new Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi could be one of the first people to be summoned by the court - a good enough reason for him to focus his efforts on this issue.”