All You Need to Know about the Application of Sovereignty

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A key component of US President Trump's 'Peace to Prosperity' plan is the clause allowing Israel to annex parts of the West Bank. What do Israelis and Palestinians say about this plan and what would it look like on the ground? Prof. Amichai Cohen has all the answers in this explainer.

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Just What is the Annexation Plan Included in the "Deal of the Century"?

The American Peace to Prosperity plan (better known as “the Deal of the Century”) was released by President Trump in January 2020. According to this plan, the United States expresses its support for the application of Israeli sovereignty to about 30% of the West Bank. In return, Israel is required to agree to the future establishment of a Palestinian state with only limited powers—if the Palestinians satisfy a series of conditions such as acting against terrorism, giving up the right of return, ending activity against Israel in international forums and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. The plan reflects American support for Israel’s immediate annexation of a portion of the territory, whether or not the Palestinians agree to this move. 

How Does Annexation Differ from the Application of Sovereignty?

In practice, there is no significance difference between the two terms. Both mean that the territory which is annexed, or to which sovereignty is applied, becomes Israeli territory for all intents and purposes. 

Official representatives of Israel, as well as those who are in favor of this move, prefer to speak of “applying sovereignty,” since "annexation" is banned by international law and generally refers to the imposition of one country’s sovereignty over territory that had belonged to another. Israel’s official claim is that Judea and Samaria never “belonged” to any other country, and consequently cannot be “annexed.” By contrast, the opponents of the move favor the term “annexation” in order to emphasize that it violates international law.

What Territory is Israel Planning to Annex, and How Many People Would be Incorporated into Israel by the Move?

The territory that Israeli may annex according to the Deal of the Century covers about 30% of Judea and Samaria, including the Jordan Valley, existing settlements, and some unpopulated areas. According to those who formulated the plan, the map attached to it is a “conceptual map,” and so – the precise borders of the land to be transferred to Israel, at this time, are not totally clear. In any case, the idea behind the plan is that it will eventually cover all the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, with a total population of 450,000. According to various estimates, about 100,000 Palestinians live in the areas to which Israeli sovereignty would be applied under the Trump plan. 

In fact, it is far from clear what territory would be immediately affected. First of all, it is uncertain whether Israel would apply its sovereignty to the entire area referenced by the Deal of the Century. It is more likely that a much more limited area would be involved (the built-up area of the settlements themselves accounts for less than 2% of the territory of Judea and Samaria). 

Second, Israel might not apply sovereignty to areas with high concentrations of Palestinians, mainly in order to evade the need to grant citizenship to their residents. The result would be a checkerboard of Palestinian enclaves that are not part of Israel but are surrounded by sovereign Israeli territory. This would obviously create a series of problems, including possible infringements of property rights, freedom of movement and equality. 

Why are Some Settlers Opposed to the Plan?

Some settlers totally reject the establishment of a Palestinian state, or even agreement in principle to its establishment in the future.

Others oppose the stated goal of the map attached to the plan. Under the Deal of the Century, Israeli sovereignty would apply to all the settlements (and the main traffic arteries), but substantial portions of Area C would be reserved for the future Palestinian state. 

What Would Happen to Israeli Settlements that are not Part of a Settlement Bloc?

Isolated Israeli settlements that are not part of the major settlement blocs in the West Bank would become Israeli enclaves almost totally surrounded by Palestinian territory, or at least by land that has not been annexed by Israel. Life there would be difficult from a security perspective. In addition, the American statements about a construction freeze (the US ambassador in Israel suggested that they could build high-rises) have created a real fear that the isolated settlements would be hung out to dry. 

Why do the Palestinians Reject the Plan?

In the 1993 Oslo Accords, as well as in the interim agreements that followed, the parties undertook to solve the conflict through negotiations. The 'Deal of the Century', which includes unilateral annexation without the consent of the Palestinians, is seen as incompatible with this formula.

What is more, the Palestinians view any application of Israeli sovereignty to land beyond the Green Line as illegal, and certainly if done without their consent. The Palestinians also consider all the settlements to be illegal, and the demarcation of the annexation border on the basis of these settlements as unacceptable. In the past, they were willing to accept border amendments based on the 1967 lines, on a 1:1 basis; that is, full compensation with territory within the Green Line, for land in Judea and Samaria annexed to Israel. The Trump plan proposes only partial compensation of this nature, with the Palestinians’ receiving half as much land as they would lose. 

Nor do the Palestinians believe that the intention of the Deal of the Century is to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The land promised them is split up, with access from one part to another passing through sovereign Israeli territory (by means of tunnels and bridges). These conditions strike the Palestinians as unrealistic and one-sided, and the state they are promised would have limited authority. 

In short, the Palestinians see the 'Deal of the Century' as a ruse meant to allow Israel to apply its sovereignty to extensive areas, but without recognizing the Palestinian demand for self-determination in their own state.

Who has the Authority to Approve the Annexation Plan?

Israeli law recognizes two tracks for the application of sovereignty: a Government resolution (“decree”) issued pursuant to Section 11b of the Law and Administration Ordinance, which would simply redefine the country’s eastern boundary. This is how Israeli sovereignty was applied to East Jerusalem after the Six Day War. The decision to issue such an order might be brought to the Knesset for its approval. 

The second track is by passage of a law to apply Israeli sovereignty, as was done with regard to the Golan Heights in 1981 (as formulated by the law, “the application of Israeli law, justice, and administration”).

Under the coalition agreement between the Likud and Blue-White, Prime Minister Netanyahu is entitled to pursue the application of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank along either track (Government resolution or Knesset law) after consultations - but without the need for agreement - with the other parties in the coalition. The only condition mentioned in the coalition agreement is U.S. consent for the move. 

How Would the International Community React to this Step?

A long list of international organizations, including the United Nations Security Council and the International Court of Justice, the Human Rights Council, and almost every country in the world believe that the West Bank are the lands on which the Palestinians are entitled to realize their right to self-determination; that they have the status of an occupied territory; and that the application of Israeli sovereignty there without the Palestinians’ consent, would be a violation of international law and totally invalid. The application of sovereignty would also be seen as standing in contradiction to the Oslo Accords, from which Israel and the Palestinians have never officially withdrawn. 

The most effective tool available to the international community to maintain international law consists of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. This step will never be taken as long as the U.S. administration supports Israel, since the United States has veto power in the Security Council. 

Nevertheless, in the past- sanctions have been imposed by other international organizations and by individual countries. Examples of such sanctions include those imposed on South Africa and its apartheid regime in the 1970s and 1980s, sanctions against Russia following its conquest of the Crimea and against Iran for its development of nuclear weapons. 

Have Other Countries Ever Taken a Similar Step?

Since the end of the Second World War, annexation of territory seized in war has been deemed illegal under international law. There have been only a few breaches of this principle, and these are not recognized by most countries. The prominent examples of such controversial annexations are Morocco’s application of its sovereignty to the Western Sahara, and Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

The article was published in Times of Israel.