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US says annexation conditional on Palestinian state

What happened: The Trump administration will make its support of annexation in areas of the West Bank conditional on Israel agreeing to negotiate over a Palestinian state and fully endorsing President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

  • According to a report in Axios by Barak Ravid, a senior US official said that any Israeli annexation must come “in the context of an offer to the Palestinians to achieve statehood based upon specific terms, conditions, territorial dimensions and generous economic support”.
  • The US has conveyed this message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his aides through several channels, according to Israeli and US sources. Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz have already announced their support for the Trump plan, but it would be the first time the Israeli Government or Knesset would be asked to approve the establishment of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank. This could create tensions within Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc.
  • Ravid notes that during a meeting of the US-Israeli mapping committee, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told Netanyahu’s aides “the US wants to implement a peace plan, not an annexation plan”.
  • Ravid further notes that the Trump administration wants Netanyahu and Gantz to act in concert, and is aiming for a broad consensus on the issue across Israeli politics. Gantz does not oppose the idea of strengthening “the settlement blocs” and normalising life “anywhere Israelis live,” but is against any unilateral moves that jeopardise Israel’s peace agreement with Jordan.
  • Ten European ambassadors to Israel (Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Finland and Denmark), as well as the UK ambassador, on Thursday warned of severe consequences if Israel moves ahead with plans to annex parts of the West Bank. The ambassadors added that such a move constitutes a clear violation of international law.

Context: Despite Netanyahu and Gantz agreeing to form an “emergency national unity government” to end Israel’s 16-month period of political paralysis, it is the clause allowing the government and/or Knesset to discuss annexation from 1 July 2020 that has captured the international community’s attention.

  • According to the coalition agreement, the new government will “engage in dialogue” with the international community over annexation, “with the aim of preserving security and strategic interests including regional security, preserving existing peace agreements and working towards future peace agreements”.
  • Yesterday, the Arab League held an emergency session and said that annexation constituted a “new war crime” against the Palestinians during a virtual conference chaired in Cairo.
  • “The implementation of plans to annex any part of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, including the Jordan Valley … and the lands on which Israeli settlements are standing represents a new war crime … against the Palestinian people,” Arab foreign ministers said in a joint statement.
  • The US has toughened its stance over the past regarding Israel’s plans to discuss annexation. Last week US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that: “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions.” However, on Monday a US State Department spokesperson said the Trump administration was ready to recognise Israel’s annexation, but noted the offer was contingent on Israel agreeing to Palestinian statehood as well.
  • Palestinian leaders have rejected Trump’s plan, and withdrew from all talks with the administration after Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2018.

Looking ahead: Netanyahu will come under more pressure from his right-wing base to move forward with annexation as Israel approaches 1 July. However, there is no guarantee that Netanyahu will bring the issue to a debate or vote this summer.

  • Those in the US-Israeli joint committee will likely involve the Israel Defense Forces and intelligence community in Israel, who are more likely to air caution over the security implications and could delay any vote.
  • There is also no guarantee that the US-Israeli joint committee will agree on where to demarcate the new boundary line. Settler groups will lobby Netanyahu to have the maximum definition of jurisdiction over their settlements to allow for natural growth, which could cause rifts between Israeli and US officials.