Explainer: All you need to know about Israel's Trump-backed annexation plan for the West Bank

Explainer: All you need to know about Israel's Trump-backed annexation plan for the West Bank
Your questions about Israel's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, answered.
6 min read
30 June, 2020
Israel can begin steps towards annexation from July 1 [Getty]
The Israeli government led by right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it plans to begin steps towards annexing large parts of the occupied West Bank from Wednesday, July 1.

The long-feared move comes as part of an Israel-Palestine peace plan unveiled by the Trump administration earlier this year.

But what does annexation mean? Could Israel face sanctions if the plan goes ahead? And what could happen to Palestinians on the ground?

We answer these questions and more below.

What is the West Bank?

The West Bank is a chunk of territory located, as the name suggests, on the west bank of the Jordan River.

In 1947, it was designated as part of a future Palestinian state under a United Nations partition plan for the then-British Mandate of Palestine, which covered modern day Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war - widely termed the Nakba, or "disaster", by Palestinians - the West Bank was annexed by neighbouring Jordan.
[Click to enlarge]

It wasn't until 1967 that the West Bank fell under Israeli occupation, a move described as illlegal by multiple United Nations resolutions. 

Since then, Israel has allowed the building of more than 200 settlements dotted throughout the West Bank. These settlements are considered illegal under international law as the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits population transfers into occupied territory.

While the 1994 Oslo Accords allowed Palestinians a limited form of autonomy in parts of the West Bank, all of the territory remains under Israeli military occupation. 

Around 430,000 Israeli settlers now live alongside more than three million Palestinians in the West Bank, which many Israelis see as rightfully theirs due to bibilical and historical connections to the land.

Israel now seeks to "extend sovereignity" - a term used by Israeli lawmakers who insist the move is not annexation - to most of these settlements.

What does the Trump plan allow?

The so-called "Deal of the Century" put forward by President Donald Trump earlier this year allows Israel to seize most settlements and the Jordan Valley, a fertile and strategic strip of land located along the border with Jordan.

Together, these territories make up around a third of the West Bank.

These disparate territories would be linked to each other and Israel proper by special roads, according to the plan.

The Trump plan also greenlights an "undivided" Israeli capital in Jerusalem, half of which is considered illegaly annexed under international law.

The rest of the West Bank would become part of a future Palestinian state, according to the plan, with a capital in the suburbs of East Jerusalem located behind the seperation wall.

This state would be fully demilitarised, with Israel retaining full control over its border crossings and airspace.

This Palestinian state would also face a number of obstacles due to its lack of territorial continuity, with the West Bank cut up by territories claimed by Israel into dozens of seperate islands. 

The Trump plan also includes within the future Palestinian state the besieged Gaza Strip and a narrow strip of land in the Negev desert, as well as for potential land transfers of Palestinian-majority areas in Israel.

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The Trump plan's vision for Israel and Palestine [Click to enlarge]
Is annexation illegal?

Annexation has wide support within Israel, particularly from the Israeli right-wing, but is widely considered illegal under international law.

The term refers to when a state unilaterally declares sovereignity over another territory, meaning it is from then on officially considered part of that state.

A recent example is Russia's controversial annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Israel has also annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were seized from Syria in 1967.

The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids the annexation of parts or all of an occupied territory, and annexation based on the illegal use of force is condemned by the UN charter.

The UN's human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has described Israel's plans for the West Bank as both annexation and illegal.

Who opposes annexation?

Most major international actors have condemned Netanyahu's plans to annex Palestinian territory, with the exception of the United States. A number of US lawmakers from the Democratic Party have also slammed the move, however.

The UN, Arab League and European Union have all urged Israel not to go forward with annexation.

Could Israel face sanctions?

It is unclear though whether this international chorus of condemnation would take punitive actions against Israel in the event of annexation.

So far, Belgium's parliament has called for sanctions against Israel, a move also called for by UK shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy in the shape of a ban on imports of West Bank goods.

Progressive Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also called for the US to mull cutting military aid to Israel over the move.

Analysts have also warned the move could spur neighbouring Jordan to withdraw from its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

No one has committed to sanctions or cutting aid at this point in time, however.

Will anything actually happen?

The coalition agreement between Netanyahu's Likud party and former electoral rival Benny Gantz's Blue and White faction allows for Israel to begin annexation steps on July 1.

On the eve of this date, however, very little is clear.
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A joint Israeli-American committee tasked with mapping which parts of the West Bank Israel can annex has yet to decide upon a final map.

Recent reports in Israeli media indicate Netanyahu may take a piecemeal approach to annexation, declaring sovereignity over just a few settlements located close to Israel in the coming days, weeks or months.

Analysts have described such plans targeting large settlement blocs as a form of "symbolic annexation", as Israelis resident in these blocs essentially live as if under Israeli sovereignity already.

Israelis living in government-recognised settlements are subject to Israeli civil law, despite the fact Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank are subject to military law.

The annexation would however ease restrictions on settlement construction.

Read more: True to form, Israel will carry out annexation in stages

Analysts indicate that international opposition will likely push back the annexation date from July 1, and could prevent the Israeli government from annexing coveted territories deeper inside the West Bank.

Netanyahu's coalition partner, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, has also stated annexation "will wait" until after the coronavirus crisis. 

Another barrier to annexation taking place is the fear of widespread violence.

Israel's chief of staff has reportedly told his forces to ready for clashes, while the country's military liason to the Palestinians has allegedly warned of a "wave of terror attacks".

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have previously launched two intifadas, or uprisings, against the Israeli occupation. Protests against land seizures, settlement construction and the separation wall are also a weekly affair.

Would Palestinians become citizens of Israel?

A rough map produced by the White House earlier this year would see land housing more than 300,000 Palestinians become part of Israel.

But the Israeli premier has said any Palestinians resident in the Jordan Valley would not become citizens of Israel if their land is annexed. 

Analysts presume the same would apply to Palestinians elsewhere in the West Bank due to the Israeli right's fear of the so-called "demographic threat" of a growing Palestinian population within Israel that could see Jewish Israelis become a minority in the self-described Jewish state.

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