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January
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January, in short:

  • “Vison for Peace” announced by Trump administration: Plan uses two-state solution as a basis, but offers proposals in line with Netanyahu’s positions and far from minimum Palestinian demands
  • Annexation moves appear increasingly likely, but frozen for now: The Trump administration prevents immediate Israeli moves to annex settlements and Jordan Valley, but normalization of annexation among Israelis increases
  • Settlement expansion in West Bank and East Jerusalem: Defense Minister Naftali Bennett lays groundwork for more settlements while Israeli courts reject Palestinian claims  

These events moved the Two-State Index (TSI) down by 7.9% (down by 0.38 points from 5.59 in the previous month).

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Trump administration reveals plan for Israel and the Palestinians

On January 28th, President Trump announced his administration’s “Vision for Peace” plan in a joint press conference with PM Netanyahu. He laid out a plan that ostensibly provides the Palestinians with an autonomous entity that would be called a “state”, but in practice would not lead to actual sovereignty, or even a “state-minus”. The plan fully adopts Israeli positions on all core final status issues, and paves the way for Israeli annexation of roughly 30% of the West Bank.

Israel’s retention of all its settlements in the West Bank is a central feature of the plan. It thus abandons the 1967 lines as a basis for the borders between Israel and the Palestinian “state”. Instead, the “conceptual map” utilized in the plan conforms to the security borders of Israel’s isolated settlements and settlement blocs adjacent to Israel proper, includes the Jordan Valley as part of Israel, and provides for Israeli annexation of a strip of land around Gaza. By carving out space for 15 settlement enclaves in the West Bank, the plan creates long “fingers” of Israeli territory that render the Palestinian “state” geographically non-contiguous. Aside from the 12 kilometer border between Gaza and Egypt, the “state” would be completely encircled by Israel, which would also control all of its international crossings. 

The land set to be swapped to the Palestinians in the plan includes an area south of the West Bank and two stretches of land in the Negev desert linked to Gaza, which have little potential for residential development. The plan also envisions the incorporation of the Arab-majority Triangle area of central Israel into the Palestinian “state” (“subject to the agreement of the parties”). These swaps, plus the 70% of the West Bank that would be part of the Palestinian “state”, would equate to 84% of the West Bank and Gaza prior to 1967. 54 Palestinian villages, including an estimated 140,000 Palestinians, would be annexed to Israel.

Under the Trump administration’s “vision”, Israel would retain security control over the entire area, including air space and territorial waters. The plan allows for Palestinian security responsibilities if the security forces of the “state” meet certain criteria designated by Israel. Israel can revoke any of these responsibilities if it determines that these criteria have not been met, and can expand its security presence in the Palestinian “state” as it sees fit. The Palestinian Authority would have to take control of Gaza, and Hamas be demilitarized (the plan contains no prescriptions for how to achieve this).

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Map by Dan Rothem
Trump’s plan also endorses an undivided Israeli capital in Jerusalem, including the Old City (with the status quo, including Jordanian custodianship, maintained on the Temple Mount). The Palestinians are offered a capital in areas of East Jerusalem beyond the wall, Shuafat and Kafr Aqab, and in Abu Dis. The 220,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians that would now be living in Israel would be given the options of becoming Israeli citizens, becoming Palestinian citizens, or retaining their status as permanent residents. 

No Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel under the plan. The refugees would receive some degree of monetary compensation, and would either be integrated into their current host counties, allowed to immigrate to certain Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states, or absorbed into the new Palestinian “state”. The latter option would be subject to, among other conditions, Israel’s security considerations, thus providing Israel with authority over approval of all refugee absorption. 

The prescriptions of the “vision”, along with other portions that go beyond core issues, are remote from any conceivable minimum that Palestinians would accept as a basis for final status agreement. Tareq Baconi, a Palestinian analyst at the International Crisis Group, described the plan as “a blueprint for the US and Israeli governments to entrench the reality of de-facto annexation” and “a form of coercion” against Palestinians. Yonatan Touval, Foreign Policy Analyst at the Mitvim Institute, observed that the plan contains a “complete obliviousness to Palestinian positions … [and] hollows out the very principles of diplomatic deal-making – namely, that a lasting settlement can only be reached through a negotiated agreement.”

Netanyahu immediately accepted Trump’s “vision”, and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz also welcomed its announcement. President Abbas strongly rejected the plan, and he subsequently sent a handwritten note to Netanyahu in which he asserted that the Palestinian Authority “will consider itself free to break any and all agreements signed with Israel, including security coordination between the two sides." UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov said that the plan “stops very far from addressing the concerns of the Palestinian side” and warned that, if implemented, it will alter “the nature of the relationship between the PA and Israel … [which has been] governed by principles and agreements that are put forward by [the] Oslo [Accords].”

The promulgation and adoption of a plan that ultimately damages prospects for a two state solution shifted the US and Israeli prime minister parameters downward, each from 4 to 2. The relative lack of pushback to the plan by the international community moved the Third party engagement parameter downward from 6 to 5, and the EU and international community parameters from 8 to 7 each. Furthermore, the plan’s potential for moving the goalposts regarding consensus on the nature of a two-state solution shifted the Basic international norms parameter from 8 to 6. In addition, five parameters related to the solvability of core issues (Population, Regional architecture, Security envelope, Refugees rights, and Permanent place of residency) moved down by one point each.
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Increased – but uncertain – potential for Israeli annexation measures

Following the roll-out of the Trump administration’s “Vision for Peace”, Netanyahu announced that he would immediately seek to apply Israel law over all settlements and the Jordan Valley. Two days later, however, these plans appeared to be suspended after White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner said publicly that the US would not support any unilateral Israeli annexation of the West Bank prior to the March 2nd elections. Kushner added that a joint committee, formed by the Trump administration and the Israeli government, would work “over a couple of months” to determine the exact parameters of a potential annexation move, but they would “need an Israeli government in place to move forward.”  

On January 21st, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz urged annexation of the Jordan Valley “in coordination with the international community,” a qualification indicating that Gantz is unlikely to attempt any moves toward unilateral annexation if he becomes prime minister. One day later, UN envoy Mladenov warned that “the annexation of some or all of Area C in the West Bank, if implemented, would deal a devastating blow to the potential of reviving Israeli Palestinian negotiations, advancing regional peace, the essence of the two-state solution."

While any potential Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank appears stalled for now, the increase in normalization and support for annexation in Israeli society moved the Israeli public opinion parameter from 8 to 6.

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New developments lay groundwork for settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem

On January 26th, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered the eviction of a Palestinian family from their home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The Court based its decision on the land on which the home was built having been owned by Jews prior to 1948. The lawsuit was brought to court by the Israeli settler organization Ateret Cohanim, which was named the trustee of the land by the Jerusalem District Court in 2001. The decision came after another Palestinian family was ordered evicted from their Silwan home on January 20th, a decision that may set a precedent for the eviction of over 700 Palestinians in the area.

Earlier, on January 15th, Israeli defense minister Naftali Bennett declared that seven new nature reserves would be created in Area C of the West Bank. According to Peace Now, 40% of this land is under Palestinian ownership, and its new status will allow for Palestinians to be easily evicted, and for any Palestinian agricultural activity to be forbidden. Bennett announced on January 8th that he had formed a task force to further settlement in Area C (60% of the West Bank), and to achieve a goal of one million Israeli citizens living in the West Bank within a decade.

Bennett’s moves moves came in the wake of a decision by the Israeli High Court to dismiss a petition against the legality of the master plan for the settlement of Ofra, which was built primarily on Palestinian-owned land. The High Court based its decision, in part, on the argument that some of the settlement was built by residents “in good faith” (without knowing it belonged to Palestinians). Furthermore, the Israeli Civil Administration on January 5th and 6th announced the advancement of construction plans for 1,936 settlement housing units. Peace Now’s figures show 89% of these in settlements that Israel would have to evacuate under a future peace agreement with the Palestinians, per the borders proposed by the Geneva Initiative. 

These measures shifted the parameter related to the location of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem from 3 to 2.

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