June, in short:

  • Israel takes no concrete steps on West Bank annexation: Discussions with Trump administration continue as new polling shows Israeli public’s opposition
  • Palestinians ramp up anti-annexation efforts: PA takes new steps on domestic and international fronts while economy nears crisis
  • International and regional actors continue pushback: Jordan and UAE lead new efforts against annexation as EU considers potential punitive actions 
  • “Regularization Law” ruled unconstitutional: Israeli High Court strikes down law that would allow for expropriation of private Palestinian land and retroactive legalization of settlements

These events increased the Two-State Index (TSI) by .4% (up 0.01 points from 5.16 in the previous month).

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In both Israel and the US, picture on West Bank annexation remains unclear

July 1st – designated in the Israeli government’s coalition agreement as the date from which annexation measures can be voted on – arrived without any Israeli decision on the matter. Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said that “disagreements” with the US were currently preventing any action or announcement. After meeting with US officials the previous day, PM Netanyahu said that “we will continue to work on [the issue of annexation] in the coming days.” 

Elsewhere in Washington, DC, numerous Democratic lawmakers issued letters and statements in June opposing Israeli annexation. The most significant was a joint statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer along with Senators Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin (the top Democrats in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), all considered strong supporters of Israel. With Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden already publicly opposed to annexation and the Democratic convention less than two months away, the matter is set to be a prime foreign policy issue during the US election campaign.

There was also continued division on annexation within the Israeli government through much of June, with Defense Minister Gantz sending a variety of signals. He reportedly ordered the IDF to prepare for increased violence, and said that Israel won’t “wait around forever for the Palestinians” to negotiate. Yet, Gantz also said that he would only back annexation of the Jordan Valley (an option reportedly ruled out by FM Ashkenazi) if it was supported by the Arab states and the US, and claimed that Israel would only annex areas without “many Palestinians.” On July 29, in a meeting with the Trump administration’s Avi Berkowitz, Gantz cautioned that July 1st was “not a sacred date” and asserted that “the coronavirus and its socioeconomic and health consequences is the more pressing issue that needs to be attended to right now.”

The latter comment prompted a rebuke from PM Netanyahu, who said that “the matter is not up to Blue and White, they are not a factor either way.” Netanyahu had previously emphasized that he would seek to annex all Israeli settlements on July 1st while indicating that implementation of any further moves would be delayed. Netanyahu also faced strong opposition from a group of settler leaders, led by the head of the Yesha Council. Meanwhile, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi alerted troops on June 23rd that “you can find yourself in a few weeks in the Judea and Samaria area because of riots and terror” and added that the violence could spread to Gaza. According to David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), “intelligence officials in the Shin Bet have quietly assessed the various downsides to annexation, and if these views filter into the public discourse, then Gantz and Ashkenazi’s Blue and White Party will be bolstered [in pushing back on annexation].”

Already, a poll released by the Geneva Initiative on June 6th showed that almost 42% of the Israeli public oppose annexation (with less than 33% in favor). The poll also showed that only 3.5% of Israelis consider annexation to be a top priority. A subsequent poll by Israel’s Channel 12 similarly found that 46% of Israelis opposed annexation. On June 29th, a survey from Hebrew University and aChord showed opposition to annexation among Israelis at 69%. Moreover, efforts to fight annexation were ramped up within Israeli civil society during June. Various organizations mounted public information campaigns (including videos on various platforms) and staged multiple protest rallies.

These developments increased the Israeli civil society parameter from 7 to 8. All other relevant parameters remained the same in June.


Palestinians step up fight against annexation as PA nears economic crisis

Throughout this past month, there were public efforts by the Palestinians to fight West Bank annexation in both local and international arenas. On June 22nd, thousands attended a Fatah-organized rally in Jericho to protest annexation. The rally featured a number of foreign diplomats, including ambassadors from the EU, China, Russia and Jordan, as well as UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who addressed the crowd.

While the presence of these representatives showed a resolve to firmly and publically oppose annexation, the rally itself garnered only modest attendance and revealed the PA’s difficulty in mobilizing Palestinians to demonstrate against annexation on a mass scale. According to Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Public Survey Research (PCPSR), there has been “significant erosion of public trust in the PA, and this makes it almost impossible for the PA to move the public in any significant way.” 

Earlier in June, the Palestinians submitted a four-page proposal to the Quartet (the US, EU, UN, and Russia) outlining a plan that would lead to the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state. The proposal reportedly involves “minor border changes” based on the 1967 lines and declares the Palestinians’ willingness to resume direct negotiations with Israel. No official response from the Quartet has been issued as of yet.

Meanwhile, far from progressing to negotiations, the relationship between the PA and Israel continued this month to suffer the consequences of President Abbas’ move to curtail security and civil cooperation. Palestinians must now deal directly with the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank in order to secure permits to enter Israel – including permits for medical care – with the PA now issuing personal documents for Palestinians without having them validated by Israel. Ghaith al-Omari, senior fellow at WINEP and former advisor to President Abbas, noted that “the PA has been trying to create a sense of crisis by using international diplomatic levers … thus giving Israeli officials a sense of what would occur if the PA collapses.”

These and other measures have pushed the Palestinians closer to a financial crisis. After announcing on June 3rd that the PA would reject tax revenues collected by Israel on its behalf (amounting to $170-190 million), as well as an $800 million loan from Israel, the PA was unable to pay its employees’ salaries for a second straight month. PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh also declared that the PA would not transfer the $105 million it sends to Gaza every month, much of which is used to pay public-sector employees. Al-Sheikh claimed that Abbas is “willing to let the authority collapse if annexation comes to pass."

These moves came after the publication of a UN paper warning of a collapse of the Palestinian economy due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as an assessment by the World Bank that the economy could shrink by as much as 11%. Nonetheless, a new PCPSR poll showed that the Palestinian public largely supports the steps Abbas has taken in the face of potential annexation, with 71% in favor. A new TSC poll provides further insight on the path favored by the Palestinian public, with 43% of respondents choosing to end the split between Fatah and Hamas in order to fight the Trump plan, but without ending agreements with Israel or dismantling the PA (the options of either cancelling agreements with Israel and permanently dismantling the PA or cancelling the agreements with Israel but without dismantling the PA were supported by 22% and 23%, respectively).

While the PCPSR poll showed majority Palestinian support for non-violent-resistance (61%), it also revealed that a majority favors a return to armed struggle (52%). Although this number decreased from 64% in the previous PCPSR poll, it provides warning of a violent response to annexation – a response made more likely by the spiraling economic situation. In such a scenario, said Nidal Foqaha (Director-General of the Palestinian Peace Coalition-Geneva Initiative), “the door will be open for a new round of violence … the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian security apparatuses will not only be unable, but for sure, will not be willing to take part in any activity or any move to prevent any act against Israel.”

As annexation measures have yet to be announced, and thus the full political, public, and economic consequences for Palestinians yet to be fully realized, all relevant parameters remained the same this month.


International and regional efforts to oppose annexation continue

In June, regional efforts against potential Israeli annexation were again spearheaded by Jordan, which has reportedly considered cancelling the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty in response. On June 16th, King Abdullah personally lobbied a number of US lawmakers on the issue. It was subsequently reported that Jordan would respond harshly to any Israeli annexation of the West Bank, not simply to a measure that included the Jordan Valley. Meanwhile, Jordanian FM Ayman Safadi said that annexation poses an “unprecedented danger” and Jordanian ambassador to Israel Ghassan Majali warned that he could be recalled. Similar messages were relayed in a meeting of the heads of the GI-Two-State Coalition with the Jordanian ambassador on June 24th.

However, the extent of any potential Jordanian response to annexation remains unclear. “King Abdullah must balance this opposition with important strategic interests, from security links and water/gas projects with Israel to the bilateral relationship with Washington,” according to al-Omari. “Yet if annexation does occur, Amman will almost surely downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel, freeze nonessential civilian relations, and help Saudi Arabia build an Arab coalition that seeks to impose costs on Israel by reaching out to Europe and international organizations.”

Seeking to relay a similar message to the Israeli public, UAE ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba published an op-ed in the Israeli press on July 12th that termed annexation “illegal”, stated that it would undermine Israel’s growing relations with Arab Gulf states, and described how these relations could be expanded if annexation were abandoned. Otaiba received Palestinian criticism for having made clear that normalization with Israel could continue in full force as long as the status quo is maintained. The effect of the op-ed was also off-set by a senior UAE official’s call for increased cooperation with Israel.

Yoel Guzansky, senior researcher at INSS, assessed that “Gulf leaders fear that their status in the Arab world will suffer and that public unrest will undermine the stability of their regimes if they fail to express resolute opposition to annexation.” Guzansky described the UAE’s actions as being “consistent with the duality that has characterized the Gulf interaction with Israel for many years. This duality also reflects the aspirations of the Gulf states to maintain good relations with Washington, especially in light of the threat they face from Iran … annexation, even if it is carried out, is not expected to erode the quiet security cooperation significantly.”

At the international level, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres continued to push back on annexation. For its part, the EU struggled to find a unified approach, but EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell made clear that there would be “significant consequences” for the EU-Israel relationship if annexation is implemented. While sanctions appear unlikely, the EU could move to cut Israel off from a scientific research grants program from which it has received over 1 billion euros in funding, and some states reportedly may recognize a Palestinian state. Furthermore, a letter opposing annexation and signed by 1,080 parliamentarians from 25 European countries was delivered to European foreign ministries on June 24th. On July 1st, British PM Boris Johnson published an op-ed in Hebrew arguing against such a move.

With regional actors and the international community awaiting an Israeli decision on annexation before taking any concrete actions, all relevant parameters remained in place.


High Court strikes down law legalizing settlements on private Palestinian land

On June 9th, the Israeli High Court ruled that a 2017 law allowing for the legalization of Israeli settlement homes on private Palestinian land was unconstitutional. The law, which had never been used and was frozen since 2018 pending the court’s decision, would have retroactively legalized 4,000 settler homes and allowed for further construction on expropriated land. It would also have allowed for the expropriation of about 8,183 dunams (2,046 acres) of private Palestinian land and the legalization of 55 outposts, according to Peace Now.

The ruling clarifies that the role of legislator in the West Bank is held by the military commander, not the Knesset. It also establishes a number of precedents: the right to equality of both Israelis and Palestinians, that expropriation of land must be for public purposes, and that Israeli settlers should not be considered a “local population” (which would theoretically allow for expropriation). The Likud party responded to the ruling by vowing to pass similar legislation in the near future, while Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of Blue and White said that the ruling should be respected, but added that settlement homes could be legalized “in an informed way and with wide agreement.”

The court’s decision, having significantly set back the effort to expropriate private Palestinian land and legalize settlements, moved the relevant parameter up from 3 to 5.

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