Unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank would be a clear and substantive violation of the Oslo Accords, according to Joel Singer, the attorney who represented Israel in negotiating the accords and ultimately drafted them.
“Unilaterally annexing West Bank areas will violate the Oslo Accords,” he told Haaretz on Tuesday. “Article 31 (8) of the 1995 Israel-PLO Interim Agreement states that the ‘status of [the West Bank and the Gaza Strip] will be preserved during the Interim Period.’
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“Further, the agreement contains a clear undertaking that ‘[n]either party shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.’ (Article 31(7)). Since the status of the West Bank is that of an autonomous area under Israeli supreme authority, unilaterally annexing portions of the West Bank to Israel clearly constitutes a material violation of the Oslo Accords.”
Nevertheless, he stressed, “So is declaring an independent Palestinian state there.”
Consequently, “The only way for Israel to assert that its planned West Bank annexation does not violate the Oslo Accords is to argue that the accords are no longer valid because the PLO or the PA have already rescinded the Accords either by declaring them void or by violating them in such a material manner that they are no longer in force,” he said, referring to the Palestinian Authority.
The PA announced last month that if Israel annexes any territory, it will consider itself absolved of all commitment to the Oslo Accords and other agreements with Israel.
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Annexation “would be a substantive violation of the agreements between the parties that would annul everything that remains of the Oslo Accords and other agreements,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned. “Israel’s ongoing violation of the agreements, its announcements of plans for and steps toward annexation, absolve the PLO and Palestine of any commitments stemming from these agreements, including security.”
The PA repeated this message in its response last week to the International Criminal Court after the court sought clarifications on how it sees the accords’ legal status in light of Abbas’ remarks. Abbas told the court that due to Israel’s declarations of intent to annex West Bank settlements, the PA considers itself absolved from all agreements with Israel and the United States.
In practice, however, it’s still not clear exactly which forms of cooperation with Israel he will halt or has already halted.
Hussein al-Sheikh, the PA official in charge of civil affairs, told the New York Times on Monday that the PA would not agree to any cooperation or coordination with Israel. For instance, he said, Israelis arrested in the PA on suspicion of committing crimes would no longer be returned to Israel, as has been done until now; instead, they would be tried in Palestinian courts.
Also on Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said in an interview with Palestinian television that all coordination with Israel has stopped “except issues related to daily civilian life.” He also said that if Israel did annex territory, the PLO would revoke its recognition of Israel within the 1967 lines.
Wednesday morning, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is slated to arrive in Israel. Officially, the purpose of the trip is to meet his new Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. But unofficially, its purpose is to warn Israel not to annex territory.
While here, Maas will meet with Ashkenazi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He will then hold a video call with Palestinian leaders. Wednesday evening, he will fly to Jordan for talks with Jordanian officials. This will be his first visit outside Europe since the coronavirus crisis erupted.
On Monday, Haaretz reported that Israel prevented Maas from visiting Ramallah by telling him that if he did, he would have to spend two weeks quarantined in Israel before flying home through Ben-Gurion Airport. However, he is not being asked to quarantine upon his arrival from Germany.
Following Haaretz’s report, MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) urged Ashkenazi to let Maas visit the PA. “This is a ridiculous demand that has no basis in reality and doesn’t comply with existing procedures for the minster’s arrival in Israel,” she wrote.
Germany, which is considered a key supporter of Israel in international organizations but is also devoted to upholding international law, is very opposed to unilateral annexation. As Haaretz has previously reported, this places it in a bind. On July 1 – the very day when Netanyahu plans to start annexation proceedings – Germany will take over as rotating president of both the Council of the European Union and the UN Security Council. Consequently, it will be forced to choose between its commitment to international law and its historical commitment to Israel.
Last month, Germany and the PA published an unusual joint statement saying that unilateral annexation would violate international law and undermine the two-state solution. In the statement, both parties reaffirmed their commitment to a negotiated solution based on the 1967 lines and UN resolutions.
Prior to Maas’ visit, Foreign Ministry sources said they believed Germany would “unequivocally” oppose sanctions on Israel and would not recognize a Palestinian state in response to annexation. Nevertheless, they added, annexation would damage the relationship and undermine Germany’s willingness to help Israel on various fronts.