The Israeli leader is under pressure from settler groups and political parties further to his right to extend Israeli sovereignty over as much as 30 percent of the West Bank as soon as possible, before President Trump’s potential departure from office. Through major policy concessions to Israel over the past three years, as well as its controversial blueprint for Middle East “peace” unveiled in January, the White House has shown its willingness to move beyond the long-cherished U.S. goal of a “two-state solution” in favor of a new status quo more aligned with the interests of the Israeli right.
“Applying Israeli law to much of the West Bank would mean the irreversible end of the Palestinian statehood project, making [Netanyahu] the prime minister who not only buried the two-state solution but annexed choice West Bank real estate,” wrote Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. diplomat and veteran of earlier rounds of Israel-Palestinian peace talks.
The rest of the world — including many lawmakers and pundits in Washington — still clings to the vision of a viable, independent Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s annexation plans were, of course, rejected by the Palestinian leadership, who suspended cooperation with Israel’s security and civil agencies in protest. But they are also overwhelmingly opposed by the international community: E.U. officials have raised the prospect of sanctions; left-leaning Democrats in the United States now want to suspend or condition military aid to Israel based on its behavior; a host of Arab states engaged in a tacit rapprochement with Israel have warned that annexation would doom their budding friendship.
The consensus view among analysts of Israeli politics is that Netanyahu will take a less aggressive approach, perhaps initially extending sovereignty over a small handful of settlement blocs. Announcing “some form of annexation-lite,” explained my colleague Steve Hendrix, would allow Netanyahu “and President Trump — who both have seen booming economies collapse — to focus on other fronts.”
But for Palestinians, there’s no moving on. The Palestinian Authority, the entity created to help shepherd the two-state solution forward in concert with the Israelis and the international community, is in deep crisis. It’s at odds with a right-wing Netanyahu government that shows little interest in meeting even baseline Palestinian demands; is facing bankruptcy; is mired in a dysfunctional intra-Palestinian standoff between mainstream factions and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza; and has become increasingly unpopular among ordinary Palestinians, the majority of whom “now see the PA as a liability, not an asset,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former adviser to the Palestinian side in peace talks two decades ago.
If Netanyahu presses ahead with annexation, prominent Palestinian officials fear a definitive end to their already enfeebled statehood project and a future shorn of equal rights of citizenship, where their lives and movements are forever curtailed by the imperatives of the Israeli security state. “It means that I, as a Palestinian, will not be able to do anything without their permission,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told my colleague Ruth Eglash. “It means they will control my movements, my planning, my borders and my access to everything. … They are trying to suffocate me, bury me, and they think I will stand for it?”
Others contend that years of Israeli occupation, land grabs and settlement expansion in the West Bank and around East Jerusalem had already cemented this reality. “Contrary to the popular narrative, annexation will not kill the two-state solution — you cannot kill something that has long been dead,” wrote Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian American scholar. “Rather, annexation is dragging and displaying the two-state solution’s corpse before the world.”
“If you ask Palestinians in the Jordan Valley how they feel about annexation, many will tell you that they thought we had already been annexed long ago,” wrote Salem Barahmeh, executive director of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “This is why we cannot help but ridicule the world’s growing, alarmist, and existential outcry as we approach July 1.”
Indeed, the alarm in Washington has been loudest among Israel’s traditional defenders. They argue against annexation on pragmatic, policy terms, recognizing that the current status quo of ironclad Israeli control over Palestinian territory and relative global quiescence over an indefinite military occupation suits both Israeli and U.S. interests — more so, at least, than a unilateral move that will provoke a backlash from Palestinians and governments elsewhere.
But critics on the Israeli left argue that the case against annexation ought to be one of morality, not tactics. “During the era of slavery in the United States, and apartheid in South Africa, there were those who profited from the social order that was enshrined in law at the time,” wrote Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, an organization of former Israeli soldiers who speak out against the abuses of the occupation.
“A fair person isn’t interested in having the society in which he lives imitate their ways,” he added. “Anyone living in a country that was founded as a result of a U.N. resolution, one based on the right to self-determination, would have to betray himself to deny the native people who live alongside us that very same right.”