Suspense is building over Donald Trump’s “big announcement” about Israeli plans to annex portions of the West Bank. Today Trump aides David Friedman and Avi Berkowitz flew to Israel to consult with Israeli leaders to get on the same page as the White House prepares to approve an annexation plan.
A former Israeli ambassador said that Trump is likely to bless a “symbolic” acceptance of Israeli annexation of two large chunks of occupied West Bank: the city of Ma’ale Adumim east of Jerusalem, and the cluster of 22 settlements south of Jerusalem known as the Gush Etzion bloc.
Danny Ayalon said on i24 News today that the Trump administration is divided between Jared Kushner, who is concerned about the opposition to annexation of the Gulf States which had supported the Trump “peace plan” as an economic boon, and pro-annexation Ambassador David Friedman who “mainly represents Israeli interests” (fascinating job description).
Ayalon, who regards the Trump plan as a “historic opportunity” for Israel, said the divide would likely be resolved by a “symbolic” annexation that Trump can say does not foreclose establishment of a Palestinian state.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to annex all settlement areas in the West Bank “all at once,” says Ellie Hochenberg of i24 News, but Trump seems to have settled on “gradual” annexation.
Ayalon says that Trump will cite letters that were exchanged between President George W. Bush and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon in 2004 in which Bush accepted that “major population centers” of Israeli settlers would one day become part of officially-recognized Israeli territory.
Bush’s letter preempted Oslo negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis by describing the illegal colonies as Israeli territory.
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.
White House mediator Dennis Ross said recently that Netanyahu will be able to get away with annexing Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion without too much international criticism if he spins it as consistent with the two-state solution. Trump and Netanyahu are likely to undertake a “resurrection” of the Bush-Sharon letters, which Obama had walked back, Ross said (per the Times of Israel). A return to the Bush letter would have “significant implications,” Ross said, “both because it was recognizing settlement blocs referred to in the letter as major population centers, but also because it said that no agreement can involve going back to the 1949 Armistice lines or the equivalent of June 4, 1967.”