Now that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has secured a new term in office despite bribery and corruption charges, the Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives are in danger as there seems to be little to prevent him from annexing large parts of the occupied West Bank, starting on July 1.
In late April, Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz signed a coalition agreement that includes a clause to advance plans to annex parts of the West Bank, including Israeli settlements, starting on July 1. Netanyahu's pro-settler base is eager to move forward with annexation, while the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is in office. An expected visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo next week could provide the first indications of his intentions.
With Netanyahu’s new government expected to be sworn in next week, both sides appear ready to move forward. The U.S.' ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, told the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom this week that the U.S. is ready to recognize annexation in the coming weeks if Israel so chooses.
The White House’s long-awaited Mideast plan, unveiled earlier this year, envisions leaving parts of the West Bank under permanent Israeli control. The Palestinians have rejected the plan as biased. The Trump administration has been solidifying the Israeli presence in the occupied territories by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in 2018. It was the most powerful signal that the U.S. aimed to recognize the city as Israel's capital, despite it violating international treaties. In the deal, the future of the West Bank is unclear, but Israeli lands would be expanded.
Netanyahu has promoted Jewish settlement expansion in his four terms as prime minister but until now refrained from presenting a detailed vision for the West Bank, seen by the Palestinians as the heartland of a future state. During the election campaign, he often pledged that he would not dismantle a single Jewish settlement and that Israel would retain control of the territory west of the Jordan River – the West Bank.
An Israeli annexation of large parts of the West Bank is bound to snuff out any last flicker of hope for an Israeli-Palestinian deal on the terms of a Palestinian state on lands Israel captured in 1967.
A so-called two-state solution has long been the preferred option of most of the international community. Turkey condemned Israel’s recent plan for thousands of new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, underlining that the world has been going through a sensitive period when peace and stability are needed more than ever.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, last month said annexation would be a “serious violation” of international law and the EU will “act accordingly.” Last week, 11 European ambassadors reportedly registered a diplomatic protest over the annexation plan.
Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War. Since then, more than 700,000 Israelis have moved into settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Most of the international community considers Israel's West Bank settlements illegal according to international law and an obstacle to a two-state solution to the conflict.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem as part of an independent state. The annexation of West Bank settlements would infuriate the Palestinians and Israel's Arab neighbors, and eliminate any lingering hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state.