JERUSALEM, Israel – After three days of talks at the White House, President Donald Trump has no final decision on whether the US will support Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank - biblical Judea and Samaria - and the Jordan Valley, as outlined in his Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
According to The Hill, a senior White House official said Thursday that "meetings this week were productive" but "there is yet no final decision on next steps for implementing the Trump Plan."
US Ambassador to Israel will return to Israel Friday "for further meetings and analysis," the official said.
The news came after top White House advisor Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday that President Donald Trump will soon make a “big announcement” regarding Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank and Jordan Valley.
“There are conversations being had. Obviously, the president will have an announcement. He’s talked about this in the past and I’ll leave it to him to give you a big announcement. Very happy those talks continue,” Conway told reporters at the White House.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing for Israel to begin annexing parts of the West Bank, including 132 settlement communities and the Jordan Valley as early as July 1. The annexation is detailed in the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan released in January, but the White House has since given Israel mixed signals over its support for the move. White House officials are meeting this week to discuss if the US will give Netanyahu the green light to move forward with the controversial move.
“Let’s just see, because he wants to be an agent for peace in the Middle East and he’s trying to do that,” Conway said. “He has tried to bring peace to the Middle East in many different ways.”
When asked if the president was concerned about how the Arab world will react to the annexation, Conway downplayed fears of a violent uprising in the Middle East, suggesting there would be the same muted response to annexation as there was to Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"The same thing was predicted. That there would be mayhem and murder and death and destruction,” said Conway. "He moves the embassy to Jerusalem, the Arab world was going to disappear. Thank God that wasn't true."
— Alan Fisher (@AlanFisher) June 24, 2020
President Trump’s senior advisors on Tuesday began discussing the administration’s position on annexation. A US official told Reuters news agency that senior advisor Jared Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, national security advisor Robert O-Brien, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman were involved in the discussions.
A Full or Limited Annexation?
The US is considering multiple approaches to annexation, including a step-by-step process that would see Israel declare sovereignty over several settlement communities close to Jerusalem instead of a full annexation of the 30% of the West Bank originally laid out in the peace plan, the official said.
Trump has not ruled out a larger annexation but is concerned that allowing Israel to make a large unilateral move would destroy any hopes of bringing the Palestinians to the negotiating table. The Palestinians condemn the annexation and refuse to consider Trump’s peace plan.
The Palestinians envision the West Bank as the site of their future homeland. Trump’s peace plan calls for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the parts of the West Bank not annexed by Israel.
There are also fears about Jordan’s reaction to the annexation. The Hashemite Kingdom is one of two Middle Eastern countries that have peace treaties with Israel. Meanwhile, others are concerned that annexation will jeopardize the progress Israel has made in quietly expanding ties with the Gulf States.
While the White House has not reached an official decision yet, it hopes that Israel’s unity government, which is divided on the issue, will reach a consensus, Reuters reports.
How Do Israelis and Palestinians View Annexation?
Israelis are divided over Netanyahu’s annexation plans. A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 44% of Israelis support annexation and only 31.8% believe the declaration of sovereignty will happen in the coming year. Of the people surveyed, 51.7% of Israeli-Jews and 8.8% of Israeli-Arabs support the move. In contrast, 27.9% of Israeli-Jews and 51.9% of Israeli-Arabs oppose annexation.
Palestinian overwhelmingly reject Trump’s peace plan and annexation but are divided about how to oppose it, according to a recent survey published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. When asked how to oppose annexation, a slight majority of 52% of Palestinians said they favor an armed struggle, while 42% oppose violence.
The International Community and Two Legal Perspectives
The international community largely condemns annexation and considers the West Bank to be occupied Palestinian territory. Israel captured this land after winning a defensive war against the Arab armies in 1967 - Six-day War. The UN Security Council Resolution 242 unanimously adopted after the war says that the status of this territory should be changed through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and not through a unilateral move.
Israeli international law expert Prof. Yuval Shany argues that unilateral annexation is contrary to the Oslo Accords and the two-state vision that Israel and the Palestinians have accepted in the past.
“The unilateral creation of Israeli sovereign enclaves runs contrary to the obligation to negotiate a permanent status arrangement with the Palestinians, and effectively creates Palestinian enclaves in the nonannexed area with limited contiguity and almost certainly no sustainable viability as an independent state,” Shany writes.
Meanwhile, David Parsons, an attorney, and VP of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem argues that the term “annexation” used by Israeli leaders and others is misleading because Israel is not seizing land.
“They are essentially just asserting their title to something that they already have a right and claim to. The international community recognized 100 years ago at the San Remo Conference in 1920, the League of Nations mandate in 1922 that the Jewish people have a claim to this entire land,” Parsons told CBN News.
Critics also argue that if the annexation occurs, Palestinians living under Israeli law will not be offered the same benefits that Israelis would enjoy, including citizenship, social or medical benefits.
Many conservative leaders and politicians in the US and Israel are pushing for annexation because they believe it would settle the land’s limbo status and finally live under full Israeli sovereignty like the rest of the country.
“Applying sovereignty will show that we care about the lives of those citizens of Israel. Applying sovereignty is also vital for Israel’s security – a fact that the critics of sovereignty are forgetting,” the Zionist Organization of America said in a news release.
Even so, many right-wing settlers oppose the annexation because they fear it will come with a high price tag of Palestinian violence in retaliation. They also fear the annexation will be accompanied by the concessions to Palestinians described in the Trump peace plan, including the creation of a Palestinian state.
Currently, 466,000 Israeli settlers are living in the West Bank. A large portion of them is on the Israeli right. They believe the land is their biblical birthright and do not want to see an independent Palestinian state emerge in that area.