Middle East

What can Israel annex, and what of Palestinian threats?

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: In the fallout from the newly announced U.S. peace plan, Israel has threatened to annex parts of the West Bank while the Palestinians have pledged to cut security ties.

Yet analysts say both moves could prove harder to implement in the short term than anticipated.

What could be annexed?U.S. President Donald Trump Tuesday released his long-delayed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which was seen as skewed toward Israel.

Among a series of proposals that angered the Palestinians was America giving the green light for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements.

The Jordan Valley constitutes a third of the West Bank, the largest part of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since a 1967 war.

Palestinians say such annexation would effectively make it impossible for them to form a state.

When could annexation happen?After Tuesday’s announcement Israeli officials said the government would discuss annexation at the cabinet Sunday, while the U.S. ambassador to Israel said they could proceed immediately.

But Israeli officials have since expressed concerns over security, while Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and chief architect of the peace plan, has called for Israel to wait until at least after Israeli general elections on March 2.

The Cabinet meeting Sunday was canceled without a stated reason.

The Jordan Valley borders Jordan and annexation would anger the Hashemite kingdom, one of two Arab states with a formal peace treaty with Israel.

Kobi Michael, senior fellow with Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said there was “concern” among the army and other security forces that it could escalate tensions.

The army announced that it was sending reinforcements to the Jordan Valley after the peace plan was released.

“There was a recommendation by the [military’s] general staff to the political echelon not to hurry with annexation,” he said.

What is the Palestinian response?Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was infuriated by Trump’s peace plan.

He had already severed ties with the Trump administration over its pro-Israel stance but Saturday pledged to go further and cut all security ties with the United States and Israel.

Analysts say such coordination is vital in maintaining calm in the West Bank, where Abbas’ government has limited autonomy in major cities.

“The major challenge for the [army] is a Palestinian uprising which if uncontrolled - and if you add if security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority stops - would be a major challenge,” Michael said.

The second of two previous Palestinian intifadas, or uprisings, ended in the mid-2000s.

Will Abbas follow through?Abbas has made similar threats multiple times without ultimately cutting ties.

Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, said 84-year-old Abbas risks emboldening rivals Hamas if he follows through with his threat.

Palestinian Authority forces work with their Israeli counterparts to break up cells of the Islamist militant group in the West Bank. “For Abbas the security (coordination) prevents Hamas getting into the West Bank,” Rabi said.

It was not immediately clear Sunday if coordination was expected to or had already stopped.

“It is a threatening message and remains a threat because it is not easy,” Palestinian political analyst Jihad Harb said.

“On the ground we have not seen anything yet.”

But Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian minister, said Abbas’s language was more direct than in the past.

“Previously they used to talk about forming a committee to study cutting ties or some kind of linguistic trick,” he said.

“This time he is saying we have already notified the Israelis and the U.S. There were no disclaimers.”

Khatib said if security ties were genuinely cut the Israelis would likely respond by freezing coordination in other areas, making Palestinian lives in the West Bank far more difficult.

About 2.7 million Palestinians live in the territory, alongside around 400,000 Israeli settlers.

Hugh Lovatt, an Israel-Palestine analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, agreed that “past experience would lead to skepticism.”

“But while Abbas may once again be crying wolf, it is worth remembering that the wolf did show up one day.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 03, 2020, on page 5.

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