Jun 30, 2020 - World

Why Israel’s annexation plans matter for the region

Map: Andrew Witherspoon and Danielle Alberti/Axios
Map: Andrew Witherspoon and Danielle Alberti/Axios

The world is awaiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision on whether to annex up to 30% of the West Bank as soon as July 1 — likely further eroding relations with Arab governments and sparking a new wave of protests in the territory.

Why it matters: If Israel moves forward with annexation, decades of tensions could explode across the region, and progress toward a peace agreement — tw0-state or otherwise — could be stalled indefinitely.

  • The act of annexation itself is forbidden by international law, adding to the plan's controversy.

Yes, but: Netanyahu will only move forward with annexation if he gets a green light from the White House, which proposed that Israel gain 30% of the territory under its Middle East peace plan, but has been divided over the process and timing.

The impact: Khaled Elgindy, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told Axios that plans to annex parts of the West Bank could force a mass displacement of Palestinians as they leave their homes or have them destroyed.

  • Elgindy said there is "no doubt" that the movement of Palestinians in or near the annexed areas will likely become restricted as well.

Where things stand: The West Bank territory is, in effect, governed by the Israeli military.

  • Israeli settlers must have building and zoning requests in the area approved by Israel's defense minister and prime minister.
  • Annexation would make at least some of the settlements officially part of Israel, and make additional building by settlers much easier, BBC reports.

Palestinian leaders are protesting Netanyahu's proposal by refusing to coordinate with Israel over things such as tax collection, policing and cancer treatments, NPR reports.

  • Palestinian leaders declared in May that, given Israel's decision to annex, they are no longer bound by the 1990s-era peace accords.
  • Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said, "This is an issue in which we cannot be silent on. Annexation is an existential threat for our future."
  • Palestinians have consistently and emphatically declared annexation a non-starter for any path to peace, per the Washington Post.

Between the lines: Regardless of its decision on annexation, Israel has already shifted the debate. Israel is no longer under pressure for enforcing a contentious status quo, but for moving beyond it.

What they're saying:

  • United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba wrote in an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's largest newspaper: “Annexation will definitely, and immediately, reverse all of the Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the United Arab Emirates."
  • Jordan, home to 2 million Palestinian refugees, has threatened to sever its security pact with Israel if Netanyahu's government proceeds with annexation.
  • Qatar has informed Israel it will suspend money transfers intended to keep the peace in the Gaza Strip because of Israel's annexation plans.
  • United Nations chief António Guterres has continually asked Israel to abandon annexation plans, saying, "Annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-state solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations."
  • The European Union, Israel's largest trading partner, has said it will use diplomatic means to "discourage" Israel from moving forward with annexation, the BBC notes.

The bottom line: "Formal annexation really has the potential to radically alter the situation on the ground, even though de facto annexation has been happening for decades," Elgindy says.

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