By UCLA Professor James L. Gelvin

West Bank annexation: The triumph of domestic politics over international law and common sense

July 5, 2020 - 11:52

If Israel annexes the settlement blocs and/or the Jordan Valley, it will mark the triumph of domestic politics--both Israeli and American--over international law and even common sense.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes annexation will enable him to put together a clear majority in the Knesset that would allow him to derail legal proceedings against him (he is facing corruption charges that could lead to jail time if he isn't protected by the Knesset).  Donald Trump believes that agreeing to annexation, combined with moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the legality of the settlements, cutting off assistance to the Palestinians and expelling their diplomats from the United States, and the like, will gain him evangelical Christian support in the November elections.  While his support in the evangelical community was overwhelming in the past, it, like his support among most other layers of the population, is tenuous in the wake of his mishandling the pandemic, social justice issues/Black Lives Matter, and the economy.

The three pro-settler Zionists who came up with the Trump plan and had been promoting it--Jared Kushner (Trump's son-in-law), Jason Greenblatt (Trump's special envoy to Israel-Palestine), and David Freedman (U.S. ambassador to Israel), have been talking about a "paradigm shift" to replace the stalled negotiations based on the Oslo Accords. Taking a page from the "Israel Victory Project"--the brainchild of the Middle East Forum, an extreme right-wing think tank founded by the Islamophobic Daniel Pipes--they believe that continued negotiations are pointless and that Israel should just annex the settlements and declare victory over the Palestinians.  

The Trump plan represents this policy, although it is presented deceptively as an alternative means of getting to a two-state solution.  The Trump plan calls for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians that would ultimately lead to a Palestinian state.  However, the terms of the negotiations are so onerous that they are unacceptable to Palestinians  Among those terms: the Trump plan would provide the starting point for negotiations and is non-negotiable; the Palestinian state would be broken up by settlement blocs, the wall, and bypass roads; the Palestinian state would not have sovereign control over its boundaries and air space and would be completely surrounded by Israeli territory; the Palestinians have to recognize Israel as a "Jewish state" and renounce the right of return, etc.

Believe it or not, the two main opponents of annexation in Israel are the military establishment, on the one hand, and extremists in the Israeli settler movement, on the other.  The military establishment believes annexation will possibly lead to Jordan's (and maybe Egypt's) renunciation of its peace treaty with Israel, the end of security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and chaos in the West Bank, a third intifada, a reversal of Israel's blossoming relationship with the (P)GCC and Saudi Arabia, and international condemnation and sanctions by the European Union.  Extremists in the settler movement don't want just the settlement blocs--they want all of the West Bank for Israel.  This position is not only supported by some affiliated with the settler movement, but it is also the official position of Netanyahu's Likud Party.  Opponents in the United States include much of the Democratic Party, along with younger Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish. 


Professor James L. Gelvin is an American scholar of West Asian history and a faculty member in the department of history at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

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