Israel’s annexation of its West Bank settlements was supposed to have taken place right after Trump presented his ‘deal of the century’ in January this year, but it was stalled by officials in the Trump administration, reportedly by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Then annexation was supposed to have begun on July 1, as stipulated in the new Israeli government’s coalition agreement. The fact that it was stalled again, reportedly because the Trump administration again refused to give a green light, is a big win for all those in the world who are against it. It is reasonable to assume that the longer it is stalled, the higher the chance is that it will not happen at all.
Non-annexation would be a big win for the world – in particular for the EU, the Arab League, and the 191 members of the UN who do not recognize Israel’s claims to the occupied territories. With 191/233 Democratic members of Congress recently signing a letter opposing annexation, it would also be a big win for the Democratic party in the United States if annexation would not happen. Most important of all, of course, non-annexation would be a big win for the Palestinians, among whom 88% reject the Trump plan, according to a recent poll.
Opposition to Israel’s occupation and especially its settlements is still among the most consensus-oriented issues of all in international politics, even after the Trump administration changed its position on the legality of Israel’s settlements in November 2019. The main reason behind the international focus on the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is because they are seen all over the world, except for in Israel and among parts of the Republican party in the United States, as the vehicle for taking over Palestinian land, thereby making a two-state solution much harder to achieve. Except for Israel and the United States, no other state in the world recognizes the legality of the Israeli settlements. It is almost impossible to imagine any other issue of world politics where the same kind of consensus exists.
Both the Trump administration and the Israeli government seem to be deeply divided over if and how to pursue annexation with leading members of both governments reportedly being both for and against and in between. President Trump’s position on unilateral Israeli annexation is also ambiguous. The term annexation is nowhere to be found in his ‘deal of the century’. Neither did the President raise the issue of annexation or the related term of ‘Israel applying its laws to the settlements’ in his press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the peace plan was released back in January. Surprising as it may seem, the fact is that Trump has never himself spoken in favor of unilateral Israeli annexation outside of his ‘deal of the century’.
It is, of course, still possible that Trump will green-light Israel’s annexation plans, either the full plan or a smaller version of it. On June 24, Trump’s top advisor Kellyanne Conway said that the President would soon make a ‘big announcement’ on Israel’s annexation plans, but so far, he has not, and there are no signs at present that he will. Trump’s peace plan rightly reinforced the principle of dividing the land into two states, Israel and Palestine, but it was much more favorable for the Israeli side than previous peace plans, which is why the Palestinians and the Arab League completely rejected it.
If annexation would mean the end of a two-state solution with a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel, as many analysts have argued over the past six months, then a non-annexation must logically mean that there still is a chance, however remote, for such a solution to materialize. What the international community should do now is to seize this opportunity that the stalled annexation plans have presented to reinvigorate the debate of the need for a more just and viable two-state solution than the one presented by the ‘deal of the century’.
Anders Persson is a political scientist at Linnaeus University, Sweden, specializing in EU-Israel/Palestine relations. His new book, EU Diplomacy and the Israeli-Arab Conflict, 1967–2019, will be published by Edinburgh University Press in July. Twitter: @82AndersPersson