Annexation Now Looms Large
The coalition agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, allows Netanyahu to begin annexing parts of Judea and Samaria, commonly referred to as the West Bank, on July 1.
Paragraph 29 of the 14-page agreement states, “The Prime Minister will be able to bring forward the agreement reached with the United States on the application of sovereignty in the West Bank . . . for approval by the government and/or the Knesset as of July 1, 2020.”
The agreement gives Netanyahu two legislative paths to enact annexation. If he fails to gain approval for his proposal in the cabinet, he can bring it before the Knesset, where pro-annexation parties hold a majority. “The law will be passed as quickly as possible…and will not be disrupted or delayed by the chairs of either the House or the Foreign Affairs and Defense committees,” the agreement reads.
Paragraph 28 of the deal stipulates that Netanyahu and Gantz will act in “full agreement with the United States, including on the issue of [West Bank] maps, and in dialogue with the international community.” The Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan, unveiled in January 2020, envisions that Israel will take control of 30 percent of the West Bank, including all of the Jewish settlements there and the strategically important Jordan Valley. A joint U.S.-Israel mapping team is working to determine exactly which West Bank land Israel will be allowed to annex.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump is already one of the most pro-Israel presidents in history. He has moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and exited the nuclear deal with Iran. Some analysts speculate Trump may be more hesitant to allow Netanyahu to apply Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank mere months before the November presidential election. Others say Netanyahu is eager to act before November in case the Trump administration is replaced with one that is less friendly toward Israel.
It remains unclear how Israeli annexation would work in practice. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has said an Israeli declaration of annexation would end the “two-state solution” and “take us to a new direction in the struggle with the occupation.” Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat said that extending Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank would “threaten security and stability in the Middle East.” He added that annexation “means the end of any possibility for a negotiated solution.”
Erekat called on both Netanyahu and Gantz to engage in a peace process based on the pre-1967 lines, which would let the Arabs retain all of the West Bank, including the territory where Israeli cities are located. This is the position advocated by much of the international community.
Even if Israel and the United States recognize Israeli sovereignty over large swaths of the West Bank, many European countries will not. The European Union is Israel’s largest trade partner and could create significant trouble for the Jewish state.
European diplomats reportedly warned Gantz against agreeing to a unity government that would advance annexation. An advisor to Gantz responded by saying that he had been forced to compromise on the annexation issue, but that he still hopes to be able to influence its implementation moving forward.
Gantz has been inconsistent on the issue of annexation. Long opposed to unilateral measures aimed at ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, he suddenly changed his mind in January and expressed support for annexing the Jordan Valley. Since then he has welcomed the Trump peace plan, which envisions Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, as well as every Jewish town in the West Bank.
“The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3,500 years,” Netanyahu once noted. “Judea and Samaria, the places where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived, are not alien to us. This is the land of our forefathers.”