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What’s at stake with Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank

U.S. and Israeli officials met in Jerusalem Tuesday to discuss what could be one of the most dramatic changes to the Middle East map in decades. Israel says that as of Wednesday, it might unilaterally declare significant parts of the West Bank as part of Israel. That annexation had the green light of the Trump administration, but the United Nations says it would be illegal. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    U.S. and Israeli officials met today in Jerusalem to discuss what could be one of the most dramatic changes to the Middle East map in decades.

    Nick Schifrin is back with that story.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Outside an Israeli settlement in the Jordan Valley, Palestinian and Israeli protesters say no to annexation.

    Eli Avidor is an Israeli member of Combatants for Peace.

  • Eli Avidor:

    I just feel that I cannot stand quietly. I cannot go to the beach, swim in the Mediterranean, have fun, when these crimes are happening here in this area, in my name.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Soleiman Khatib is a Palestinian from Ramallah.

  • Soleiman Khatib:

    The water resources that are here, the food, the safety and the social life, the community life will be really affected so badly if the annexation plan happens.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised annexation during election campaigns, and, earlier this year, got a green light from President Trump.

  • President Donald Trump:

    And the United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the state of Israel.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This is the current map of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, occupied by Israel at the end of the 1967 War. And this is the map in the U.S.' proposed peace plan released in January. Brown is Israel, green Palestinian. Jordan Valley becomes part of Israel, as do the numbered Israeli settlements.

    In exchange, land swaps along the Mediterranean and Egyptian border, part of a future Palestinian state, which is why opposition to the plan also comes from some Israeli settlers already in the West Bank.

  • Miri Maoz-Ovadia:

    It means that this may be an Israeli-controlled community, but we will be surrounded by a Palestinian state. Who knows how they will treat us as an enclave that is inside their desired state?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Miri Maoz-Ovadia lives in the Israeli settlement of Neve Tzuf, created in 1977, in the heart of the West Bank. She and many other West Bank settlers say U.S. support provides an opportunity, and Netanyahu isn't going far enough.

  • Miri Maoz-Ovadia:

    Sovereignty is something that we have dreamed about. So why not grab it in both hands? We do not want to commit to an establishment of a Palestinian state, to a two-state solution. We have rejected that before. We will continue rejecting that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senior U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, have been working with Netanyahu on the details of annexation. The administration calls annexation an Israeli decision, but the two sides haven't yet agreed on how much Israel will annex.

    And, today, Netanyahu said he would continue talks with the U.S. — quote — "in the coming days." The settlers who support annexation say the fear of a Palestinian state is exaggerated.

  • Oded Revivi:

    The American ambassador, David Friedman, called it that the Palestinians will turn into Canadians. We all know how the border between the United States and Canada looks. If that's the border that Israel is going to have with this Palestinian entity, I think we're all willing to settle for it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Oded Revivi is the mayor of the Efrat settlement, with a population over 10,000. He says the Trump plan answers Israel's security concerns.

  • Oded Revivi:

    I have been assured that what President Trump means is going to be an entity which won't have its own army and won't have control over its borders.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Palestinian leaders say that's not good enough, and call the plan immoral.

  • Hanan Ashrawi:

    It's not a question of how much they will annex. The whole issue is annexation itself. You cannot be a little bit pregnant. You cannot be a small thief or a big thief. Theft is theft. It's illegal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hanan Ashrawi is a longtime Palestinian leader who says the U.S. is not an honest broker, after moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, endorsing Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, and cutting funding to the U.N. agency that assists Palestinians.

    The Palestinian Authority has tried to pressure Israel by breaking off security cooperation; 30,000 Palestinian police and intelligence officers stopped communicating with Israeli counterparts. Civilian coordination has also stopped.

  • Hanan Ashrawi:

    You cannot ask us to be bound by agreements that Israel has totally shattered and that the U.S. has totally surrendered. So we're saying now this is a new ball game.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    One possibility is a smaller annexation of the most established Israeli settlements, including Maale Adumim on the edge of Jerusalem.

    But the proponents of a two-state solution say even that would make a Palestinian state impossible.

  • Danny Seidemann:

    If annexation takes place in the Maale Adumim area, it will be basically a Bantustan connected by a sealed road to other areas in Palestine, part of this disjointed, discontiguous Palestinian entity.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Danny Seidemann is a longtime activist and expert on Jerusalem's geography and history. He says the settlements that already dot the occupied West Bank challenge the idea of a contiguous Palestinian state, and annexation would leave the Palestinians living around settlements with no protection.

  • Danny Seidemann:

    The Palestinians are under military occupation. The settlers carry around Israeli law on their back as if they were — it was a backpack.

    There will probably be some Palestinians, and we will turn them into stateless people, just like we have with the Palestinians of East Jerusalem.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    European officials tell "PBS NewsHour" they could punish Israel for a large annexation.

    And United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned, any annexation would be a serious violation of international law.

    But after decades of failed peace attempts, Mayor Revivi of the Efrat settlement is pushing a plan that he says gives legitimacy to settlements.

  • Oded Revivi:

    Maybe by looking at the conflict through a different perspective, maybe by giving it a different way of negotiation, we will be able to create a better reality, and not just oppose it because it's something different that hasn't been brought to the table up until now.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the U.N. says annexation remains illegal, and even at this 11th hour, it's not clear how far Israel will go.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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