Assessments

Israel's Annexation Plans Will Leave It in Need of New Allies

5 MINS READJun 26, 2020 | 10:00 GMT
A picture shows the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Kramim in the West Bank on June 18, 2020.

A picture shows the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Kramim in the West Bank on June 18, 2020.

(MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)
Highlights

Israel's impending annexations in the West Bank will not spark immediate international backlash, but growing pro-Palestine sentiment in the United States and Europe will ultimately leave it politically and economically isolated in the long term. This will lead Israel to seek increased partnerships with countries whose citizens and politicians are less invested in the prospect of a Palestinian state, such as Russia and China, though doing so will come at the risk of further stoking U.S. ire. ...

Israel's impending annexations in the West Bank will not spark immediate international backlash, but growing pro-Palestine sentiment in the United States and Europe will ultimately leave it politically and economically isolated in the long term. This will lead Israel to seek increased partnerships with countries whose citizens and politicians are less invested in the prospect of a Palestinian state, such as Russia and China, though doing so will come at the risk of further stoking U.S. ire. 

Israel will most likely annex some major settlements in the West Bank on July 1, which the United States will acquiesce.  

  • Israel's emergency unity government, which was formed in April in light of the COVID-19 crisis, hinges on a pledge made by the country's major political factions to begin the annexation process outlined in the White House's Middle East peace plan. The plan, which was unveiled in January, envisions a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Territories in which large parts of the current West Bank remain under permanent Israeli control, including the strategic Jordan River Valley. And since then, the United States and Israel have been cooperating on a mapping project to implement that vision.
  • The United States has signaled some displeasure with the annexation strategy's pace and scope, but not with annexation itself. This has manifested in mild U.S. pressure to adjust how much West Bank territory Israel will seize starting July 1, though Washington has yet to threaten any significant diplomatic, economic or military action. 

Europe, for its part, will voice its diplomatic opposition to annexation, but the bloc's consensus-based policy-making process will make sanctions and other major penalties difficult to pass. 

  • The European Union and the United Kingdom are both diplomatically opposed to annexation but have not signaled interest in a major isolation or punitive sanctions campaign. 
  • But while the veto power held by pro-Israel EU states such as Czechia and Hungary will limit the European Union's ability to impose significant bloc-wide sanctions against Israel, Brussels may move to suspend its research and trade agreements with Israel that don't require consensus votes, as well as block future deals.  

Demographic trends in the United States and Europe, however, favor increased opposition to annexation in the long term, which will eventually entrench a Palestinian state as a political goal in these Western societies.  

  • Changing political forces in Europe and the United Kingdom have made it clear major parts of the continent oppose annexation. On June 24, for example, over 1,000 European lawmakers signed a petition advocating against annexation.  
  • In the United States, the Democratic Party will also feel pressure from the progressive side of its base to penalize Israel for blocking Palestinian statehood if Democrats take control of additional branches of the U.S. government. Such a shift in U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could come as early as January 2021, should former Vice President and Democratic candidate Joe Biden — who has criticized Israel's current annexation process as a “huge mistake" — win the November presidential election. 

As political opposition to annexation builds in the West, Israel will pivot toward China, India and Russia for economic and political partnerships

  • China, Russia and India have less historical interest in a Palestinian state and weak domestic political opposition to annexations. As a result, they will be free to continue to build up relations with Israel even after annexation and the weakening prospect of a Palestinian state.   
  • Because of their economic and military importance, Israel will seek enhanced partnerships with these three countries, including new technology and trade deals, to offset losses from the declining relationships with Europe and the United States, 

But pivots to China and Russia will likely produce even more pushback from the United States, which will especially hinder Israel's ability to grow its more lucrative relationship with Beijing.

  • Washington will likely view Israeli attempts to build up economic relations with China as a potential national security threat, and will thus likely pressure Israel to reduce or even eliminate such ties with Beijing.
  • Israeli moves to cozy up with Russia will also result in increased scrutiny if they appear to contravene American interests. Russia and Israel's sometimes conflicting interests in Syria and Iran, however, will limit the scope of any new ties between them. 

As political opposition to annexation builds in the U.S. and Europe, Israel will seek to expand its ties with countries less invested in Palestinian statehood, such as China and Russia.

Israel will still be able to continue to improve relations with nearby Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, but at a slower pace, as their Arab populations adjust to the reality of annexation. 

  • GCC states have all signaled diplomatic opposition to annexation. But some states, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, have small enough populations with a receding interest in a Palestinian state that their governments will be able to largely keep their outreaches to Israel on track, if not always public. 
  • Saudi Arabia has a larger population with a strong interest in a Palestinian state, and will thus need to allow its citizens more time to adjust to the reality of annexation, slowing the pace of enhanced Saudi-Israeli relations. Cooperation not in the public eye, however, will still be possible thanks to Riyadh's control of local media and its ability to frame Saudi-Israeli ties in a manner that does not engender major domestic blowback.
  • As they shift focus to Palestinians' status post-annexation, citizens across the Arab Gulf will increasingly call for GCC-Israeli relations to be hinged on the political rights of Palestinians under Israeli control, rather than for Palestinian statehood.  

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