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Netanyahu steps back from applying Israeli sovereignty in West Bank

What happened: Moves by Israel to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank appear to have stalled in recent days amid pushback by the Trump administration and international statements of concern. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised last week that he would take swift action “within days” to apply Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley.

  • In campaign stops last night, Netanyahu appeared to walk back the promise, saying he would apply Israeli sovereignty after the 2 March election.
  • Haaretz reported that the US administration was divided on the issue, with Jared Kushner vetoing immediate steps due to adverse reaction in the Arab world.
  • Arab foreign ministers meeting in Egypt over the weekend for an Arab League emergency summit, as well as an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Saudi Arabia, rejected the Trump peace plan and reaffirmed support for prior international positions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said yesterday that: “In line with international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the EU does not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied since 1967. Steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.” A unanimous European Union statement was reportedly scuttled due to opposition from Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Romania.
  • Responding to criticisms of the US plan in the House of Commons yesterday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “The reality is that whatever concerns any side has about this set of proposals, they will get resolved and improved only with both sides around the negotiating table. Rejectionism—the current vacuum—is only making matters worse. We would like to see peaceful dialogue and a negotiated solution, and that must be based on the two-state solution and the principles of international law.”
  • On 31 January the Foreign Secretary issued a statement saying: “The United Kingdom is concerned by reports of possible moves toward annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel. Any such unilateral moves would be damaging to renewed efforts to re-start peace negotiations, and contrary to international law.

Context: After initially appearing to support Israeli steps to immediately apply Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank, the Trump administration has cooled on the move, forcing Netanyahu to revert to a promise to take action after the 2 March election.

  • A major concern appeared to be the reaction from Jordan, including fears Amman would suspend the Israel-Jordan peace treaty.
  • Settler leaders have begun a public campaign to put pressure on Netanyahu, setting up protest tents outside the prime minister’s residence. Yossi Dagan, a settler regional council head in the northern West Bank, said this morning: “Netanyahu, we elected you and you now have the ball. We believe in you and expect you to show leadership and to apply sovereignty—either with or without the consent of the US government.”
  • Netanyahu’s main rivals in the Blue and White party have also appeared to cool on the Trump plan. Party leader Benny Gantz had promised last week to bring the entire plan to a vote in the Knesset, although that has yet to materialise. Most of the Blue and White leadership, however, still oppose applying Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank before election day.

 

Looking ahead: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will reportedly address the UN Security Council next week in a bid to have the body reject the Trump plan; the US is expected to veto any vote on the issue. The more interesting question is whether the long-serving Palestinian leader will put forward his own peace proposal. Fears of violence and instability in the West Bank appeared to have decreased in recent days due to Israeli sovereignty decisions being delayed and continued political support for the Palestinians among Arab states.


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