Updated: Mar 17
Coinciding with United States President Donald Trump’s Peace Plan, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank from Palestine, sparking backlash not only from those backing Palestine but from Israeli allies as well. Should the annexation of a region already occupied by Israeli military forces and containing Israeli settlements garner such backlash, and what are the possible ramifications? In this piece, writers Isra Qadri and Ryan Moorhead answer these questions and provide insight into how the issue may be interpreted.
Israel’s Exerting Authority Over Its Territory With Support From the United States Will Bring Peace and Development to the Region Ryan Moorhead
Israel’s Exerting Authority Over Palestinian Territory With Support From the United States Will Bring Conflict and Violence to the Region Isra Qadri
On Donald Trump: Trump and Netanyahu’s Relationship Benefits Israelis and Palestinians On May 19, 2017, President Donald Trump arrived in Tel Aviv on the first ever direct flight from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, indicating his desires and ability to assist in bringing stability to the Middle Eastern region. The United States has served as a vital mediator between the leadership of Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate the end to conflicts and begin the introduction of a Palestinian-led government to the West Bank and Gaza strip. While the current president’s views and attitudes toward Middle Eastern conflicts have been controversial, his actions show his commitment to peace. On December 6, 2017, Trump announced that the United States would officially recognize Jerusalem, a city which has been unified and under the full control of the Israeli government since 1967, as the Israeli capital. This announcement was a strong indication of the United States’ support of Israel and its legitimacy as the only free country in the Middle East. In January of 2018, Trump further demonstrated his commitment to resolving the conflicts by introducing a Peace Plan for Israel and Palestine. While the plan faced expected backlash from the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s neighbors, it showed Trump’s understanding that certain controversies, such as Israeli settlements, are permanent and unignorable features of this conflict and that the responsibility of the United States is not to eliminate them but rather address them through compromises. The President knows that as more time passes without legitimate agreements, the chance for the peaceful establishment of a Palestinian state grows slimmer. His willingness to address this by hosting several meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas, using his foreign policy to reflect the truths of the conflict, and drafting a plan to bring infrastructure and development to Palestine shows that he is an advocate for peace in the region and his close relationship with Netanyahu will serve to benefit Israelis and Palestinians alike.
On Donald Trump: Trump and Netanyahu’s Relationship Hurts Palestine In January 2020, President Donald Trump released his “Peace Plan,” the White House’s take on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have held friendly relations from the beginning of Trump’s term, and because Trump has been known to demonize nations in the Middle East with his islamophobic nature of banning immigration from Muslim-moajority nations to his contribution in the rise of anti-Muslim hate crimes, the Peace Plan consisted of mainly pro-Israel actions such as guaranteeing Israel control of the entirety of Jerusalem, creating enclaves from Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and more. This garnered criticism from Middle Eastern nations such as Jordan and outright rejection from the Palestinian Authority, especially because it refused to acknowledge that the settlements created by Israel were considered illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. There is also Trump’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: originally the city had been considered split between the two states due to its religious and cultural prominence, but his announcement in December, 2017 dismissed Palestinian legitimacy in the city. While many of these nations have displayed anti-Israel sentiments in the past, they do have hopes of gaining favor with the United States and reaping some sort of economic benefit, meaning that they see it as increasingly beneficial to ignore Israel’s actions due to Netanyahu’s closeness with the President. Iran’s mutual threat to gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia has aligned their goals with that of Israel and the U.S. as well, turning them further from the backing they had supplied Palestine in its original struggles. The less support Palestine garners from its Arab neighbors, the less it is seen as a legitimate force to reckon with as it loses the backing that gives it a voice.
On Probability: Israel Will Not Go Forward With Annexation During his close and highly controversial campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to annex parts of the West Bank if elected. This promise, scheduled to take place on July 1, has been delayed indefinitely. While the reason for this inaction remains unclear, the origins of this promise along with statements from many close to Netanyahu indicate that annexation is unlikely. Netanyahu first began to call for annexation during his campaign for Prime Minister, a campaign which was exceptionally challenging for him following corruption allegations. With a need to reconnect with far-right voters, it is not unreasonable to believe that Netanyahu used the annexation promise as a way to improve his election results, while having little intention of following through with action.
On Probability: Israel Will Go Forward With Annexation While the annexation of the Jordan Valley, originally scheduled for July 1st, has been pushed back indefinitely, the benefits may be too high for Israel to let go of the plan. The Valley sits on the border of the West Bank and Jordan, offering a symbolic blockade of the two parties who have been allied for decades. It would also grant Israel access to the river flowing from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, where militants are known to smuggle weapons into Palestine. The region is already heavy with Israeli military personnel, making for a relatively easy takeover process as little would need to be done in order to expel Palestinians within the valley. Both of these factors combined with the fact that the Israeli right, who Netanyahu has attempted to please throughout his time in office, has pushed for the annexation for years, it seems that moving forward plays directly into the future of broadened control that Israel desires.
On the Effect: Neighbors and Allies Will Not Intervene While Israel’s neighbors and allies have harshly criticized Netanyahu’s plans to annex the Jordan River Valley, their previous inactions over other controversies involving Israel indicate that they are not likely to get involved. Over the past few decades, Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as well as constructed settlements in the West Bank, drawing condemnations but little action from the international community. Israel’s allies, in this case, are almost guaranteed to have a similar response to the building of settlements, a written statement of disagreement with little concrete action. Although Israel has not made peace with Lebanon and Syria and has a fragile relationship with Jordan and Egypt, it is also highly unlikely that any of these countries will intervene. Militarily, Israel’s neighbors are held at bay by Israel’s vastly superior armed forces, never having made any legitimate advances into Israeli territory despite numerous wars. Diplomatic intervention is also undesirable as Israel’s Sunni Muslim neighbors have taken a softer stance against it in order to build stronger alliances with the United States. As their religious “Cold War” with Iran intensifies, Israel’s neighbors need American funding and weapons to fight proxy wars in Yemen, Iraq and Syria to restrict Iran’s growing regional influence. With there being little economic or military benefit for any nation to intervene in Israel’s annexation of the Jordan River Valley, legitimate intervention from Israel’s allies or neighbors seems very improbable.
On the Effect: Neighbors and Allies Will Not Be Pleased Many Arab nations that have shown support to Palestine in the past have lessened the volume of their outrage. While officials have spoken out against the annexation, placing sanctions on Israel and other forms of tangible retaliation have been pushed aside due to the newfound prioritization of maintaining a relationship. Iran is another large player in the region, and one that the U.S. aims to move against the most. With the nation’s steadfast history of supporting Palestinians’ right to the land, whether it be thorough arms or otherwise, the annexation gives it a reason to move against Israel by utilizing its presence in Lebanon to attack. On the other hand, traditional Israeli allies, including members of the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK), have condemned the annexation proposal. Towards the end of June, 1,080 European parliamentarians from 25 countries signed a letter against the annexation, asking other European leaders to stand with them as they believed the plan would not bring a peaceful solution to the conflict. While mainly party leaders and lawmakers signed onto the letter, major officials including UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas have released official statements opposing the proposal. Should the annexation go through, it is likely that at the very least bonds with the EU and UK may weaken as leaders have highlighted the fact that internationally speaking, Israel is promoting illegal activity.
On the Result: This Will Bring Peace and Development to the Region While the term “annexation” may seem life-altering to the residents of the Jordan River Valley, the most drastic changes would be on paper as the annexation propositions mostly reflect the current situation in the area. The area being annexed lies under “Area C,” an area designated by the Oslo Accords to be under full Israeli control over security and construction. This area has several Israeli settlements which would benefit greatly from the services that would result from a legal redefinition of where they live. Additionally, 97% of the Palestinian residents of this area live in the city of Jericho, with the other 3% living in village enclaves which would remain under Palestinian control, reflecting no change in the current situation. The Israeli annexation of the area would allow Israel to maintain better security in the area, preventing incidents of violence that could occur in a territory not under official control such as the firebombing of a Palestinian home by a Jewish extremist. Although the annexation proposal has drawn extreme criticism, allowing the territory to come under Israeli control would allow all the residents of the area to have access to increased security and allow legal documents to reflect the situation on the ground, something essential to the peace process.
On the Result: No Good Can Come From This An estimated 2.1 million Palestinians reside in the West Bank, and the proposal to annex 30% of its land sets precedent for more Palestinian land to be seized and an easier process for Israeli settlers to move in, potentially putting residents at risk of being expelled or having their homes demolished. The already low levels of backlash regarding the settlements are at risk to have them become normalized, possibly urging more settlers to breach international law and seek more land to claim. There is also the possibility of violent retaliation from Hamas, the terror-group ruling over the Gaza strip that has been known to target and attack Israeli cities, as well as international intervention by means of Iran. Creating ground for more violence in the region would put both Israelis and Palestinians in danger as tensions would escalate between the group, Israeli forces, and potentially Iran. Even when the thought of more land seems appealing to Israel, the path to officially claiming it opens up danger for its citizens and may even result in worse relations with its allies. It is safe to say that there is no gain for Palestinians, and while it may be a give-and-take for Israel, the prospect of peace will be far down the road if annexation is pursued.