How Trump’s annexation plan dismisses three key peacemaking concepts

Israel is waiting for US approval to move forward but has yet to get that green light to annex up to 30% of the West Bank as initially outlined in the Trump plan.

PLO CHAIRMAN Yasser Arafat shake hands with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, as US president Bill Clinton stands between them, after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord, at the White House, September 13, 1993. (photo credit: GARY HERSHORN/REUTERS)
PLO CHAIRMAN Yasser Arafat shake hands with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, as US president Bill Clinton stands between them, after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord, at the White House, September 13, 1993.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week affirmed his commitment to US President Donald Trump’s peace initiative. He has stayed silent, however, on any plans to annex West Bank settlements within or without the context of that plan.
Israel is waiting for US approval to move forward but has yet to get that green light to annex up to 30% of the West Bank as initially outlined in the Trump plan, published in January. To allow for Israel to annex, the plan dismisses three key concepts that have bound the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, as exhibited in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 2334, the Oslo Accords and the Hansell Memo.
1. Dismissal of UNSC Resolution 242 and the pre-1967 lines
The Trump peace plan is the first attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that does not take into account UN Security Council Resolution 242, passed in November 1967 in the aftermath of the Six Day War.
Resolution 242 has been the foundation of every peace initiative. It is responsible for weaving basic concepts into the peace process, which in some aspects have favored the Palestinians and in others favored the Israelis.
This has included questions of an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and Israel’s right to secure borders.
It has been to the Palestinians advantage that Resolution 242 specifically emphasizes “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” This has made it difficult for Israel to argue internationally it has a right to hold onto territory acquired during the defensive Six Day War.
Since the resolution’s passage, Israel has returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, which is now ruled by Hamas. For security reasons it annexed the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria.
At issue is the application of Resolution 242 to the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Here, vague language has allowed both Palestinians and Israelis to argue both for and against a two-state solution on the pre-1967 lines.
Palestinians contend that the resolution calls for a “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” At the time, there were no West Bank settlements, so the only issue was Israeli armed forces. The line has since been presumed to include the settlements.
Israel has contended that if that sentence intended for Israel to fully withdraw, it would have said that it should do so from “the territories,” and that the absence of the word “the,” means this was not a call for a full withdrawal.
Within this narrow linguistic window it has staked its claim to hold onto east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and portions of the West Bank, while still adhering to the principals of the resolution.
In Israel’s favor is Resolution 242’s affirmation of the “political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
Israel has used this line to further argue that Resolution 242 allows it to hold onto West Bank territory, because the pre-1967 borders are considered to be militarily indefensible.
Lastly, Resolution 242 calls for a “just resolution” for Palestinian refugees. It’s a vague line that allows for Palestinians to continue to pursue the right of return for refugees to sovereign Israel, while at the same time gives the Israelis the ability to reject that claim while offering other options.
The Trump plan doesn’t make any attempt to carry over the ambiguities of Resolution 242, nor does it ignore them. The Trump plan eliminates any possibility of returning to the pre-1967 lines and overtly dismisses that resolution and other UN resolutions with regard to the conflict.
Trump’s peace plan is the first to take such a step.
It states: “While we are respectful of the historic role of the United Nations in the peace process, this Vision is not a recitation of General Assembly, Security Council and other international resolutions on this topic because such resolutions have not and will not resolve the conflict. For too long these resolutions have enabled political leaders to avoid addressing the complexities of this conflict rather than enabling a realistic path to peace...
“Withdrawing from territory captured in a defensive war is a historical rarity. It must be recognized that the State of Israel has already withdrawn from at least 88% of the territory it captured in 1967.”
2. Dismissal of Oslo Accord idea of  negotiated  final status issues
The 1993 Oslo Accords opened the door to the idea that Israelis and Palestinians should commit to the principled idea of a two-state resolution to the conflict and then agree to resolve issues of disagreement later.
This included: “Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest.”
The Trump plan holds that while it is important for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a two-state solution, it has dismissed the idea that major issues should remain unresolved until the conclusion of such talks. The Trump administration holds that this idea is unwieldy and a strategy that has backfired by actually preventing negotiations.
Oslo “did not create an effective path for neutralizing the kinds of crises that emerged during the implementation,” Trump’s plan states.
In contrast his plan sets out the contours of what is possible for many of these issues.
His plan rejects outright the idea of absorbing Palestinian refugees into sovereign Israel.
“There shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the State of Israel,” the Trump plan states.
Similarly, his plan is therefore the first to create a map of what would be a two-state resolution to the conflict. It is the first plan to offer Israel the option of a mostly united Jerusalem save for some outlying neighborhoods and the ability to hold onto the settlements. It offers Israel 30% of the West Bank and offers the Palestinians 70%.
But Trump is not the first US leader to try and set the parameters of the final status issues ahead of a final status agreement. He is just the first to be blunt about it.
Seven years after US president Bill Clinton introduced the idea of waiting until the end to finalize resolutions to these issues, he himself attempted to set their contours.
Just before leaving office he provided a set of guidelines with respect to some of the issues, known as the Clinton parameters.
This included allowing Israel to retain only 4-6% of the West Bank. The parameters also provided for a blueprint for the division of Jerusalem based on existing Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in the city, including in the Old City. It called for Palestinians to have sovereignty over the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, and for Israel to retain sovereignty over the Western Wall.
Clinton’s parameters also called for an international force, rather than the IDF, to secure the borders of a Palestinian state.
Both US presidents George Bush and Barack Obama moved away from the Clinton parameters, and focused on the idea of a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines. Bush amended that to agree to settlement blocs, with Obama annulling that amendment.
3. Dismissal of  settlements  as illegal and the Hansell Memo
For the last 53 years there have been two independent, but at times complementary, processes occurring within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first has been at the UN, which has issued countless resolutions that have set the contours of a two-state resolution to the conflict at the pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
The UN has furthered declared that settlement activity is illegal and possibly even a war crime.
Among the more famous and recent texts to underscore the illegality of West Bank settlements was UN Security Council Resolution 2334.
Separately, the US has attempted to broker peace deals to resolve the conflict. Its first success came with the 1978 Camp David Accords, which spoke not just of peace between Israel and Egypt, but also between Israel and the Palestinians. Those accords spoke of an Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank, but did not mention settlements. At the time, the settlement enterprise was still at a fledgling point.
A letter written that same year by State Department legal adviser Herbert J. Hansell explained that Israel did not have a legal right to build such settlements. Other administrations were vague on the issue, with the Oslo Accords accepting that the settlements were a subject for negotiations. It was a move that spoke of an acceptance that the settlements could remain.
The Clinton parameters cast doubt on whether or not all the settlements would remain, speaking of Israel’s ability to maintain territory where 80% of the settlers lived. But it was the Bush administration, whose 2002 road map cast doubt on the settlement’s future by calling for a global settlement freeze in the early stages of a peace process.
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon thwarted any attempts at implementing a freeze by withdrawing from Gaza, destroying 21 settlements there and four in northern Samaria. He secured a promise from Bush that settlement blocs would remain part of Israel. Bush never pressured Israel on this point. But prime minister Ehud Olmert spoke of the possibility of further evacuations. Obama held that settlements were a stumbling block to peace and had no tolerance for their construction, but the only freeze he was able to secure from Israel was a moratorium on housing starts for 10 months from November 2009 to September 2010.
Already in November 2019 the Trump administration publicly dismissed the Hansell memorandum and declared that settlements were not inconsistent with international law. It recognized Israel’s historical and religious rights to territory in the West Bank, a point it underscored in its peace plan. It further promised that neither Jews nor Arabs would be uprooted. Lastly, it has allowed for Israel to annex territory in the first phase of the plan, by way of divorcing settlement activity from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.