With West Bank annexation gone, will a settlement freeze follow? –analysis

Does the peace process with the UAE continue as normal, while settlement building occurs?

WILL THE settlement of Ma’aleh Adumin officially become an Israeli city? (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
WILL THE settlement of Ma’aleh Adumin officially become an Israeli city?
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
It could be that the Middle East has entered a new phase of diplomacy, in which, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Thursday night, “peace for peace” has replaced the old slogan “land for peace.”
This, after all, was supposed to be one of the revolutionary philosophical pillars of US President Donald Trump’s peace deal that he unveiled in January.
On paper, it allowed Israel to annex up to 30% of the West Bank – where all the settlements are located – if Israel agreed to follow a four-year process toward Palestinian statehood on 70% of the West Bank.
The idea was to set the borders for Israeli-Palestinian statehood in advance, so that peace would not be about territorial concessions.
But then the US never gave Israel the green light to annex that 30% and now it has suspended the arrangement all together to pave the way for a peace deal with the UAE.
But if this is now in an era of peace for peace, then, why would Israel need to suspend annexation, unless the era of land for peace still existed.
Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump might speak of how settlements are not a stumbling block to peace. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might talk about how settlements are not inconsistent with international law.
But if all of these things were correct, then there should be no connection between a UAE peace deal and annexation.
That is particularly true since Trump’s plan allows for a Palestinian state.
The very linkage of the UAE deal with annexation breathes new life into two things: the concept of ‘land for peace’ and a Palestinian state at the pre-1967 lines.
The terms of the deal with the UAE must have included permission for Netanyahu to talk about annexation, because he spoke about it liberally during the press conference announcing the peace initiative.
But pragmatically can Israel continue with settlement activity in the West Bank on the way to signing the deal and in its immediate aftermath?
Can building now occur on the Jewish Givat Hamatos housing project in east Jerusalem or in the E1 portion of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement in the West Bank.
The Palestinians believe that both projects would deal a death blow to their future Palestinian state.
Or what about the creation of new settlements particularly in isolated portions of the West Bank or just large settler construction projects in general.
Does the peace process with the UAE continue as normal, while settlement building occurs?
If so, does that mean that the UAE has accepted that Israel can build in Area C of the West Bank and that such construction does not harm Palestinian statehood.
Opponents of settlement construction hold that such activity at this point, has reached the point of de facto annexation, contending that it effectively makes a Palestinian state impossible.
If that is correct, and the UAE can accept settlement activity, why not just allow Israel to move forward with annexation.
The very suspension of annexation means that it is not. If annexation interferes with the deal, then why wouldn’t settlement activity be harmful as well.
Part of the reason annexation philosophically became part of normative discourse, was precisely because of the no-tolerance policy the international community, including the Arab world, has held toward it.
Let’s imagine that later this month or in the coming months the E1 project advances for final approval or that the Givat HaMatos tender is published.
Will the UAE threaten to back away from the fledgling process or proceed. One can just imagine the discourse of how the settlers should wait, just for a short time.
No, don’t look to Netanyahu to announce a freeze. In fact, he’ll swear that there isn’t one.
Just watch for a very slow drop in settlement activity, the delays in projects. Then there will be the explanation that this is not a freeze, and by the time anyone understands what is happening, it may already be 2021.
There is of course the obvious window of opportunity, that if annexation does not occur prior to the November 3rd election, it will not occur unless Trump wins.
By that clock alone, the stating that annexation has been suspended is optimistic. Only a Trump win can revive it now.
But for the settlers who thought that they have finally achieved a 53-year dream, there is a worse case scenario. Not the suspension of annexation, but the sudden and very swift return to the pre-Trump days when any and all settlement activity was taboo.