Can annexation be undone?

Opponents of Israel’s sovereignty plan express pessimism that it can be reversed if approved.


LEFT-WING ACTIVISTS demonstrate against US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, in Tel Aviv last February. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

LEFT-WING ACTIVISTS demonstrate against US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, in Tel Aviv last February.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

With West Bank annexation appearing to be almost a certainty, its opponents have looked for a ray of hope in day-after scenarios, as they ponder whether a Knesset sovereignty vote can be reversed.

For two leading left-wing attorneys, that chance seems slim to nonexistent, both for legal and geopolitical reasons, unless it comes within the context of a major peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I cannot imagine reversing annexation without a comprehensive agreement. I do believe that annexation is reversible, but in a framework of an alternative permanent-status agreement,” said attorney Michael Sfard, who often represents the left-wing groups Peace Now and Yesh Din in cases before the High Court of Justice.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from the Israeli Right to apply sovereignty over portions of the West Bank in Area C immediately or certainly by his announced July date.

Whether he does so within the context of the Trump peace plan or not, it’s presumed that such an annexation plan would include all the West Bank settlements. All those Jewish communities are located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military rule.

Within the context of Israeli law, Sfard said, such application of Israeli sovereign law to that area can occur very rapidly.

“Annexation happens in one moment. That is the moment of the declaration, which can be done by a cabinet decision or a vote in the Knesset, that Israeli sovereignty applies to that territory,” Sfard said.

Technically, Netanyahu would not need to do more than apply sovereignty through the cabinet, but it is doubtful that he has a majority there, and he has a majority in the Knesset, Sfard said.

A Knesset vote brings with it an enormous amount of symbolism, and the Israeli Right would want that kind of gesture, he said.

More significantly, Knesset approval would be needed for the necessary accompanying legislation, Sfard explained.

It is that execution and the transformation of the annexed territory from military rule to Israeli sovereign law that is time-consuming, he said.

“What will take time is the actual digestion of that area into the Israeli bureaucracy and applying the law fully to that territory,” he added.

Past applications of Israeli law, in east Jerusalem after the 1967 war and on the Golan Heights in 1981, were very different because there were a small number of Israelis in both areas, Sfard said. He dates the annexation of east Jerusalem to 1967, adding that the 1980 Knesset vote symbolized the already existing situation.

Annexation in the West Bank would be more complicated because there are upward of 430,000 Israelis already residing in that area, Sfard explained. Their lives are governed by thousands of military rules not all of which are necessarily analogous to Israeli law, he added.

Unless there was accompanying legislation for the gradual application of Israeli law, business would become illegal and the local councils would be obsolete, Sfard said, listing just a few examples.

“What I expect is that, with annexation, there will be some kind of legislation that will escort it, saying that whatever license and whatever permit was done by the Civil Administration will be considered legal, so that everyone will continue to operate,” Sfard said.

Institutional democratic structures have to be developed for those areas, such as court systems. The power of local councils would be expanded, particularly with regard to land appropriation and development, he explained.

The result, he predicted, would be “massive expropriation of land belonging to Palestinians,” and “what we will see in the annexed territory is settlement construction and expansion on steroids.”

Technically, he said, annexation can be reversed, even though a current law was designed to make it difficult to do so, Sfard said.

At present, sovereignty can be relinquished only with the support of 80 parliamentarians, or a referendum. But if there is enough political power in the Knesset, then the law can be repealed by a 61-member vote, he said.

But as time goes by and the population in those territories increases and people become more entwined with Israeli sovereign laws, it would become harder to rescind the rights of citizens within that system, Sfard said.

In addition, he said, residents of those areas have many more rights under Israeli sovereign law, when it comes to issues of forced evacuation, such as occurred during the Sinai and Gaza withdrawals.

“The main obstacle for withdrawal is the number of people that we need to take out of there,” he said.

It is “easier to withdraw from an area under occupation,” Sfard said. When the Israeli citizens of Gaza and Sinai turned to the court prior to evacuation, their claims were rejected. They were told that, given that scenario, it should have been clear to them that their future there was conditioned upon international understandings and agreements, he explained.

“It is not the same if a sovereign territory of Israel is being evacuated or withdrawn from,” because those citizens have “a valid expectation that they can live there forever,” he said.

“You can’t order people to leave Haifa,” he said. Technically, Israel could relinquish the territory and leave its citizens in their homes, but it isn’t a political option, Sfard said.

In the eyes of international law, annexation is illegal, and states should not recognize it, he said. But in the eyes of Israeli law, it’s the issue of populated areas.

Sovereignty purports to be eternal, he said. For the last five decades Israel defined the West Bank as disputed territory, language that suggested the situation was temporary.

The only force that could override the inherent complications associated with repealing annexation would be a significant peace treaty, he said.

ATTORNEY TALIA SASSON, former New Israel Fund board president, who in 2005 authored a report for the government on West Bank outposts that were illegal under Israeli law, said that the issues here are not merely technical matters of law.

There is not enough political power in this Knesset to make those changes, said Sasson. Even if Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz were to succeed Netanyahu as prime minister, he would still not have enough power in this Knesset to make such a move.

Netanyahu could destroy Gantz’s government on any day because Gantz does not have power in the Knesset and Netanyahu does, said Sasson, who once ran for the Knesset on the Meretz ticket.

“The Gantz government would be dependent on the goodwill of Bibi Netanyahu,” she said. “We, the citizens, are thinking we have to bear Netanyahu for one-year-and-a-half, and then Gantz will come and things will settle down and be OK. No, not at all,” she said.

But what makes the difference between the day before annexation and the day after is less the application of law and more all the ramifications of that decision, Sasson said.

Each reaction and counterreaction creates changes on the ground that have long-term implications for any potential future peace process with the Palestinians, she said.

“We do not know what the results would be,” she said.

On Wednesday, Anna Ahronheim and Tzvi Jofre reported in the The Jerusalem Post that the Defense Ministry is already braced for a violent Palestinian reaction, and has warned that it is unlikely to be prepared to counter that by the July date.

“There would be many issues with security, more violence. We might lose the peace agreement with Jordan,” Sasson speculated. If that happens, Israel would lose the strategic depth that Jordan provides, which protects it from hostile forces from Iraq, she said.

Things might be changed for the worse for Israel, Sasson said.

“You can’t take only the perspective of a pure legal thought and look at it and say, this law that you legislated today, you can change it tomorrow. No. Things might be changed on the ground. Emotions would be changed. Security would be changed. The cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians would be changed. I can’t tell you we can do that today and we could cancel it tomorrow. I do not think so,” she said.

May 28, 2020 | 6 Comments » | 397 views

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  1. I like Bibi’s comment that “The important part of the plan was the paradigm shift in which thus far Israel was always the one that had to compromise, give up and withdraw. That was the basic idea of every peace deal we were handed. Now President Trump and his people come and change the direction. They say Israel doesn’t need to compromise, the Palestinians do.” The Pals have some thinking to do and the Left and the Europeans and UN need to stop inciting the Arabs and understand that the losers of genocidal wars don’t get to dictate the terms to the victors. I also think that the word “annexation” is not the proper word for territory that was to be sovereign to Israeli Jews in accordance with international law.

  2. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    All I can say is that talk is cheap. All this stuff about Arab enclaves inside the Jewish areas and Jewish enclaves inside the Arab areas is simply idiotic and represents a time bomb which is set to explode repeatedly.
    Netanyahu seems to be lying about the road accessibility to the Jewish settlers.
    Nice of him to let the settlers see the map once it’s been completed [sarcasm].

  3. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    This is consistent if I understand your question.

    Israel will pass sovereignty in the Knesset but it is NOT passing a recognition of a Pal State. All Israel has to agree to is to be willing to negotiate with the PA under the terms of the Trump Plan which puts all the onus on the PA. The PA will not negotiate, under this plan unless they become Finns or Canadians. This has been the plan all along.

  4. Was this true all along or is Bibi vacillating under pressure?

    Netanyahu: Palestinians in Israeli-annexed Jordan Valley won’t get citizenship
    In interviews, PM also rebuffs settler complaints, saying his annexation plan won’t mention Palestinian state, any settlement freeze will also apply to Palestinians in Area C
    Today, 3:47 pm 9
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview Thursday that Palestinians living under Israeli rule in an annexed Jordan Valley would not receive Israeli citizenship.

    Palestinian towns and villages in the area will remain “Palestinian enclaves” under Palestinian rule but Israel security control, he explained.

    These Palestinian residential areas, which some estimates say are home to 50,000-65,000 Palestinians, “will remain as Palestinian enclaves,” he told the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom. “You don’t annex [the Palestinian city of] Jericho [which has a population of some 20,000]. There are one or two clusters [of Palestinian residential areas] where you don’t have to extend sovereignty; [their residents] will remain Palestinian subjects, you might say, but [overall Israeli] security control will apply there.”

    Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Edition by email and never miss our top storiesFREE SIGN UP
    In a separate interview Thursday, Netanyahu dismissed fears increasingly expressed by settlers leaders regarding the US peace plan’s vision for the West Bank, saying that the mapping process is ongoing and that they were criticizing elements of the plan that still haven’t been determined and published.

    Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020.
    Speaking to the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper, Netanyahu said he didn’t believe Jordan would annul the peace accord if Israel goes forward with his declared plan to annex some West Bank land including the Jordan Valley, and said any settlement construction freeze as part of the Trump plan would also apply to Palestinians in Area C — which is controlled by Israel.

    Netanyahu said he was committed to extending Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank in July, after a joint Israeli-US team completes a process of mapping the exact vision for the future of the territory based on a conceptual map released by US President Donald Trump’s administration earlier this year.

    Many settler leaders have expressed concern about the Trump plan’s inclusion of a Palestinian state, even though it outlines many conditions for that state that are vehemently opposed by the Palestinian Authority, which has rejected the plan outright, calling it biased in favor of Israel.

    They are also roiled by the fact that at first, Netanyahu had indicated that Washington would immediately recognize Israeli sovereignty in all settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley within days of the plan’s announcement, before the administration clarified that the process would take many months.

    The settler leaders have drawn their own map, but that has reportedly not affected the committee’s work, leading to outcry and internal discord.

    Netanyahu said the declaration of annexation will not include a word on accepting a future Palestinian state, as some on the right have feared: “The issue is separate. There isn’t supposed to be any cabinet decision on the matter.”

    In his conversation with Makor Rishon, Netanyahu said the conceptual map for annexation “gave a general idea that has to be broken down into details, and that’s exactly what we’re doing at the moment. We will, of course, show it to the settlers.”

    The premier repeated that the important part of the plan was the paradigm shift in which “thus far Israel was always the one that had to compromise, give up and withdraw. That was the basic idea of every peace deal we were handed. Now President Trump and his people come and change the direction. They say Israel doesn’t need to compromise, the Palestinians do.”

    The Trump plan also includes a freeze for at least four years of all settlement construction outside existing settlements in Area C — which represents some 60% of the West Bank under full Israel civil and military control, where some 450,000 settlers live alongside an estimated 240,000 Palestinians.

    Netanyahu told Makor Rishon that any such freeze would equally apply to “both sides,” meaning also to Palestinian construction in Area C. He said that was written down in the plan, even though the interviewer noted that it isn’t written in its publicly released parts.

    Illustrative: Construction work in the Dagan neighborhood of the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
    The premier dismissed concerns that some isolated settlements will remain as enclaves inside Palestinian-controlled areas, saying that settlers already commonly drive on many West Bank roads surrounded on both sides by the Palestinian Authority.

    “People are talking about the plan without knowing it,” Netanyahu said. “What this plan says is that Israel and its security forces will militarily control all the territory west of the Jordan River. I stress: all the territory, with no exception. Tell me, when has there ever been such an American approach? They allowed us, at most, to conduct urgent pursuits of terrorists. Now there’s a profound paradigm shift.”

    Netanyahu insinuated that those on the right rejecting the Trump plan were similar to Palestinian leaders who in the past rejected peace offers “because they wanted everything, including Jaffa and Kfar Saba.”

    He also dismissed concerns that annexation would prompt strong retaliatory moves by the Palestinians and Arab and European countries. He said he was convinced the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan wouldn’t be affected, despite growing threats from Amman to annul or downgrade it.

    “The peace with Jordan is a vital interest not only for the State of Israel but also for Jordan,” Netanyahu said. “I don’t think it’s going to change. However, it is natural that such moves raise concerns.”

    Outside of the annexation push, Netanyahu also continued his attacks on the justice system and the media following this week’s opening of his corruption trial.

    “They thought I would come to court shamed and disgraced, but I came full of grit and strength,” he boasted, referring to his fiery speech before the hearing in which he asserted that the “entire right wing” was on trial due to a conspiracy by a corrupt, leftist legal system, as well as the police and media.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem (Yonathan Sindel/POOL/AFP)
    He rejected accusations that he was inciting against the law enforcement system and pushing for a civil war: “There won’t be a civil war, but there is a very fundamental debate. Criticism isn’t an attack and isn’t incitement — it is the beating heart of democracy. It cannot be that in a democracy one can’t express criticism.”

    The prime minister also lambasted the International Criminal Court for moving toward opening a war crimes probe into Israel at the PA’s request.

    “This is an archaic, anarchist body formed decades ago that aims to fabricate war crime convictions of IDF soldiers and the State of Israel,” he said. He added that Israel has taken action against PA President Mahmoud Abbas for filing a complaint at the court, but didn’t elaborate.

  5. @ greenrobot:
    I hate to say this but applying sovereignty is not as simple as deciding which of your children or grandchildren gets which bedroom in the house.
    These people bring up some very important issues and they, very understandably, do not think that everything about the annexation is really simple and predictable and necessarily good for Israel.
    Assuming that “good” Mr. Trump’s promise is some sort of a guarantee of the results and that there will be only one outcome (“the one we want”) and that we know for sure how the scenario is going to play out is foolhardy, to say the least.
    Making life-changing decisions by a simple vote amounts to nothing more than a dangerous gamble.

  6. The idea that some Israeli people are still trying to devise ways to remove the Jewish population from Judea Samaria and the West Bank in 2020 should be used as an inspiration to impose sovereignty over all the land.

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