Halting West Bank annexation resurrects the ‘67 line: 10 things to know

The absence of sovereignty has always placed a shadow of danger over the settlement enterprise.

A Palestinian woman walks past a mural against Israel's plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 14, 2020. (photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman walks past a mural against Israel's plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 14, 2020.
 The decision to suspend annexation almost automatically resurrected the pre-1967 line in the West Bank, excluding in Jerusalem.
This transition last month was swift and sudden, because the two concepts are opposite sides of the same conceptional coin.
One either operates within a conversation about the application of sovereignty or within a dialogue about a two-state solution at the pre-1967 lines.
That is because the West Bank’s Area C, where over 700,000 Israelis and Palestinians live, cannot be frozen in time.
The going wisdom of US President Donald Trump’s regional peace plan as it has now unfolded, is to hold the West Bank in some suspended reality, to be handed out by priority to whichever side is most compliant with the process.
Ideally, settlers and the Israeli Right should simply wait until the process is done, knowing that sovereignty awaits them like some golden cup prize at the end of the race.
The problem has little to do with the issue of political trust that would result in this prize being theirs. Every day – in what is otherwise known as the battle for Area C – Palestinians and Israelis engage in activities in the West Bank that either help strengthen an inevitable annexation or assist in ensuring a two-state solution at the pre-1967 line.
These activities occur within a framework of Israeli government policies that either promote annexation or oppose it. Time has slowly erased the gray area, where politicians could talk the talk, without also walking the walk.
But that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying.
The United Arab Emirates said it had stopped annexation as a prerequisite for their deal with Israel. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has concurred stating that normalization with Arab states, has replaced annexation. The US has said it was suspended indefinitely, which is to say that there is no time line for its implementation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that sovereignty will eventually happen, but at the end of the process not at the start.
For those who are trying to figure out what this all means. Here are 10 things to know that might be helpful.
1. What is the battle for Area C? At issue is the status of the West Bank’s Area C, which is now under Israeli military and civilian rule. All the Israeli settlements are located there, accounting for a population of close to 450,000. Some 300,000 Palestinians also live there. Many of the settlers and those on the Right want all of Area C to be part of sovereign Israel. The Palestinians want all of Area C to be part of their future state. The battle for this territory is played out almost literally rock by rock and house by house, out of the belief that occupancy will eventually determine sovereignty. But the issue of annexation does not immediately involve all of Area C, which makes up 60% of the West Bank. The remaining 40%, Areas A and B are under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority.
2. How much of Area C would be annexed to Israel? Under Trump’s plan unveiled in January, 50% of Area C where all the settlements are located would be annexed to Israel, with the possibility that Israel could extend its footprint into Area C should the Palestinians fail to come to the negotiation table. While the settlers want all of Area C, at present they are battling only for the spoken of 50% or an expanded map of at least 52% or 58% which addresses some of their concerns with regard to the Trump plan.
3. What was the initial timeline for annexation? In January the US said that Israel could annex 30% of the West Bank, half of Area C, immediately, at the start of its peace process irrespective of what happened with the Palestinians. Then Israel was asked to wait for US approval, which would occur after the work of a joint Israeli-US mapping committee was concluded. The committee began its work with much fanfare and a public news conference on the outskirts of the Ariel settlement. There was no public conclusion to its process nor were its results published. A July 1 date was then put forward as the earliest possible option by which Israel could annex. Then in August, with the announcement of Israel’s pending normalization deal with the UAE, annexation was suspended.
4. What is the current timeline for annexation? Annexation has been suspended indefinitely. No new date has been set. At a press conference this week Netanyahu said sovereignty could happen only after Palestinians failed to come to the negotiating table. This means that instead of annexation occurring independent of the peace process, annexation is now intrinsically tied to it. So much so, that sovereignty has been moved, from the start of the process to the end. It’s a transition that opens up the question of whether annexation would actually ever happen. If annexation is such a sure thing, then why was the waiting period suspended?
5. What is de facto annexation? This is the litmus test by which settlers and the Right know whether annexation would occur. If the suspension of annexation is truly just about a waiting period, then settlement building should move forward without any issues. This would include regular meetings of the Higher Planning Council to approve settler building projects, any project, even controversial ones such as E1, which is located in an undeveloped area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement. The US has accepted the principle point that settlements per se are not inconsistent with international law. More to the point, the Trump peace plan acknowledges Israel’s historic rights to that territory and has already stated that the settlements would be part of sovereign Israel in any two-state resolution of the conflict. So, the Right reasons, it is only logical to normalize settler life as much as possible in the interim, while awaiting the promised application of sovereignty to areas of Judea and Samaria.
6. What is a de facto freeze?
That is the sudden absence of any building advancement or approvals, particularly with regard to projects that expand Israel’s footprint in Area C, even within the area designed by the Trump plan for annexation. There would be no governmental announcement; there would simply be a long silence or only minor activity. This happens when settlement building is linked to peace activity, in such a way as it is perceived as disturbing the peace process.
7. Are settlements once again a stumbling block to peace? If a de facto freeze has occurred, then it reopens the concept that settler activity is a stumbling block to peace. If there is a link between settler activity and the regional peace process now underway, then that language which was part of the era of former US president Barack Obama would now be resurrected. The underlying idea of a freeze is precisely this, that settler building can not go hand-in-hand with peace. It was for this reason that Obama had a no tolerance attitude toward settlement building.
8. Why would settlement activity be a stumbling block to peace? Technically speaking there should be no problem if settlers want to build in portions of the West Bank that under the Trump peace plan are designated for sovereign Israel. If that concept is accepted for an Israeli-Palestinian and an Israeli-Arab plan, then there should be no issue. But the moment it becomes an issue, the legitimacy of the settlements is called into question. Ultimately the absence of sovereignty has always placed a shadow of danger over the settlement enterprise. If the territory is not sovereign, it does not legally – even under Israeli standards – belong to Israel. At the end of the day, its status will have to be resolved, the lack of its resolution holds out the possibility of a future withdrawal.
9. How does all this relate to the pre-’67 line? Ever since the 1993 Oslo Accord, the question has been raised as to how much of the territory of Area C Israel could retain. There was an idea that Israel could apply sovereignty to high population centers known as settlement blocs. Under Obama, that concept was abandoned in favor of a withdrawal based on that pre-1967 line. In the Trump plan, Israel had believed that the idea of a two-state solution based on those lines had been eliminated.
Ultimately, as long as the West Bank settlements are not under sovereign Israel, that pre-1967 line still exists. Effectively outside of Jerusalem, that line still determines what is and what is not sovereign Israel. Any de facto freeze or limit on settlement activity for fear of harming the peace process, essentially acknowledges that the line is meaningful. In the final analysis; it resurrects the line.
10. How set in stone is the ’67 line now? It remains in place until Israel applies sovereignty to areas of the West Bank. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Netanyahu have both spoken of additional peace deals between Israel and Arab states, with Kushner speculating that eventually Israel would have peace with all 22 members of the Arab League. It is likely those states would also insist on the suspension of annexation as a prerequisite, thereby making it increasingly improbable that annexation would occur. Should it move back onto the table, it would more likely be a highly modified from that would not include all the settlements.