From Peace to Prosperity (Trump peace plan) recreation of conceptual map. (S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace)

The American Response to Annexation

Members of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine organizations express their concerns for the possible upcoming annexation of West Bank territory

In January 2020, the Trump Administration officially unveiled a proposal titled “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” also known as the Trump peace plan.

The proposal is an effort on behalf of the US government to assist in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The White House describes the plan as a “realistic two-state solution [that] will protect Israel’s security, fulfill the aspirations of self-determination for the Palestinian people, and ensure universal and respectful access to the holy sites of Jerusalem.”

In May, Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, announced plans to move forward with annexation of areas of the West Bank as early as July 1.

The West Bank was captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) exchanged letters of mutual recognition in 1993, after which they signed the Oslo I (1993) and Oslo II (1995) accords, which gave Palestinians limited self-governance in the area. However, these agreements and subsequent final status negotiations failed to resolve the outstanding issues of dispute between the two sides.

The Trump Administration’s plan for annexation was created with the intent to permanently resolve the conflict, but the process has been halted. Avi Berkowitz, the US special representative for international negotiations, met with Netanyahu on June 28, but no concrete plan has been agreed upon. Public disapproval coupled with the potential disadvantages of annexation have stalled the Trump Administration’s implementation of the peace plan.

A multitude of opinions, both for and against annexation, are being expressed globally. In regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, student organizations are among some of the most active and vocal groups, and they are using their platforms to speak out about annexation.

Hala Thiab, a student at University of Houston (UH), is one of the young people sounding off on the issue.

“I am 100% against the annexation,” Thiab said. “[It’s] not just because I am Palestinian and this is hurting my people but also because this is a violation of human rights, Palestinian human rights. Annexation is an illegal act under international law. We need to stop the annexation.”

I am 100% against the annexation. [It’s] not just because I am Palestinian and this is hurting my people but also because this is a violation of human rights, Palestinian human rights. Annexation is an illegal act under international law.

Conversely, organizations like Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest pro-Israel organization is the US, sees annexation under the Trump peace plan as a gateway to harmony within the region.

Pastor John Hagee, the founder of CUFI, has expressed his support for the Trump Administration’s peace proposal. “This plan … is the best peace proposal any American administration has ever put forth,” Hagee said.

“CUFI, as we have since our founding, stands with the decisions of the democratically elected government of Israel. We hope the Palestinian leadership will not miss yet another opportunity for peace in the region.”

This plan … is the best peace proposal any American administration has ever put forth

David Makovsky, director of the Project on Arab-Israel Relations at the Washington Institute, spoke to The Media Line about what annexation could mean for the region. “The goal here is to reach a negotiated outcome that would provide dignity for both sides.”

The area in question is home to both Israeli settlements and Palestinian communities. Makovsky has created an interactive Settlements and Solutions map, available on the Washington Institute’s webpage, to help those who seek more information on the viability of a two-state solution.

“I think there are a lot of downsides to annexation but I don’t want to make it sound like the whole problem is Israel,” Makovsky stated.

Makovsky believes there are five core issues that must be resolved through cooperation from both sides before a solution can be reached.

“Borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem, refugees and mutual recognition [of both states] are the toughest five issues. I don’t see a grand deal around the corner but I do feel the Israeli and Palestinian authorities have been coordinating consistently [on issues outside of annexation].”

Coordination on important matters such as trade, stopping the spread of COVID-19, and combating terrorism may serve as the pathway to future coordination for resolving the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict via a two-state solution, which is what is proposed in the Trump Administration’s peace plan.

However, not everyone believes that a two-state solution is the best option moving forward. Rogelio Castilla, UH student and member of Coogs for Israel and Houston Hillel, is opposed to annexation and supports a one-state solution.

“It is a very complex topic and I can definitely see [why] people have very different opinions,” Castilla stated.

He continued, “I wish it was all one state. We both have lived in the land and have our ties and claims to our land. I can see why people support annexation. It would give many Palestinians living in the West Bank better livelihoods and [it would] possibly unite the region.”

Aside from the potential advantages of annexation, Castilla concedes that there are also flaws. One that he cites is the issue of citizenship for Palestinians living in areas that are being considered for annexation.

Netanyahu stated in an interview with Israel Hayom that Palestinians in the Jordan Valley would not receive Israeli citizenship.

“They will remain a Palestinian enclave. … You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them; they will remain Palestinian subjects, if you will. But security control also applies to these places,” Netanyahu said.

Castilla says, “That would put them at an unequal position compared to Israeli citizens in the same territory.”

“I believe that Jews have a right to come back to our homeland and live in peace. However, I believe the same notion must apply to anyone who had ancestors in the region before 1948,” Castilla said.

There are a lot of downsides to annexation but I don’t want to make it sound like the whole problem is Israel

Mohamad Fattouh, a member of UH’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization, is also opposed to annexation, but for reasons different from those of Castilla.

Fattouh describes annexation as “nothing short of theft of Palestinian land.”

“The annexation order is to legitimize Israeli annexation of the West Bank on paper,” Fattouh told The Media Line. “Settlements that are illegal under international law [have been] in the West Bank for years now, especially after the Oslo Accords of 1993.”

As for the future, both Castilla and Fattouh’s organizations aim to educate students on matters related to the ongoing conflict.

“We should encourage dialogue and start to work on solutions which do not include notions of pushing all the Jews to the sea or taking away power from non-Israeli people living in the land. [Coogs for Israel] attempts to educate students about the country and dispel myths that are commonly spread by anti-Israel initiatives,” said Castilla.

“We take pride in not just raising awareness about Palestine. [SJP is also proud of] building a community where we can all organize and exert student power to demand changes on campus. Hope and spirit lie in the building of a community. There is nothing more empowering than a community that aligns on principles of justice and care for each other. I hope students try things out, experiment on campus, and continue to work in solidarity and joint struggle with our brothers and sisters who face oppression,” said Fattouh.

There is nothing more empowering than a community that aligns on principles of justice and care for each other.

As the Israeli and Palestinian people await the next steps from government officials, experts like Makovsky maintain hope for a two-state solution.

“It’s going to be about gradual enhancements. It’s not going to be about a transformative moment that solves all issues at once.”

Carla Michelle Warren is a student in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.

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