Summary: the Israeli coalition agreement gives Netanyahu the opportunity to annex large parts of the West Bank. But will he do it?
We are again grateful to Greg Shapland for the article below. He is a writer on politics, security and resources in the MENA region.
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2 thoughts on “Israel and the West Bank: Annexation”
This seems to me to be a very fair assessment of the balance of possibilities over the coming months. But it may additionally be worth asking whether the Trump Administration will apply some pressure on Mr Netanyahu to move forward fairly quickly.
Although Mr Trump’s approval ratings remain stubbornly well within the range where they have been more or less stuck for three years now (at 44.6% in the RCP Average), his ratings for handling Covid-19, never stellar in the first place, have slipped quite a bit over the past two or three weeks. Furthermore (and discounting national polls which can be very misleading) he is currently trailing Joe Biden in polls in a number of key battlegrounds including Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Historically, polls take six months out from a general election have proved to be usefully indicative. But these are, to say the least, very unusual times indeed. For starters, Mr Trump has been stuck in Washington for the past several weeks and has only hit the campaign trail again a couple of days ago (thinly disguised as an official visit to Arizona). And Mr Biden remains stuck in his bunker with very little chance of making himself heard just now.
As for the betting (often a better indicator than the polls), on average it is giving Mr Biden probability compared to Mr Trump’s 40%.
Nevertheless (and taking account of all the above), having had his economic record (which was solid and intended to be the centrepiece of his campaign) holed below the waterline by Covid-19, the President needs all the additional help he can get. Attacking China over Covid-19 (which has the additional benefit potentially of distracting from his own Administration’s failings) is currently the main new strand. But a few ‘quick wins’ would help too – especially if, like annexation, they resonated strongly with the White Evangelicals who make up something like 35-40% of his base (and whose number includes, of course, Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo) when many among them depend either directly or indirectly for their livelihood on the farming sector in the Mid-West which is currently struggling.
Mr Trump’s track record for delivering on his pre-2016 election pledges is actually quite impressive (in relative and absolute terms). But for many of his supporters, aside from appointing conservative judges (on which he has certainly delivered at many levels of the legal system), being perceived to keep his pledge on the peace plan, even without Palestinian agreement, would be the cherry on the cake.
I therefore expect Mr Pompeo to be pushing the new Israeli government firmly in this direction.
220 members of the Israeli security establishment were concerned enough about the annexation to go public with an advert. Some senior members went so far as to state “Netanyahu’s Annexation Plan Is a Threat to Israel’s National Security” in a US news magazine (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/23/netanyahus-annexation-plan-is-a-threat-to-israels-national-security/?)
Netanyahu is right to ignore the pusillanimous EU, which will wring its collective hands but ultimately surrender. It will probably salve its conscience by squandering EU taxpayers’ money on more buildings for the Israelis to destroy. Netanyahu can probably keep his extreme right wing allies in Israel on board, given the nod and the wink involved in the “negotiations”. As Friedman makes clear in the JPost piece, the negotiations are a box-ticking exercise: “US support for settlement annexation is not contingent on the Palestinian response to Netanyahu’s willingness to hold talks, Friedman said.” (https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/friedman-for-annexation-netanyahu-must-tell-abbas-hell-negotiate-a-state-627057) If that wasn’t a good enough get-out-of-jail-free card, there’s also the cynical admonition that Netanyahu should negotiate in “good faith” – to the same Netanyahu who “admits on video he deceived US to destroy Oslo accord” (https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/netanyahu-admits-on-video-he-deceived-us-to-destroy-oslo-accord-1.557322)
There are, however, two issues which will probably be preying on Netanyahu’s mind.
The first is the upcoming US elections: will Trump win in November? If not, Israel is unlikely to get as pro-Israel a President as this ever again. Indeed already “Biden adviser: He’s opposed to annexation, will keep embassy in Jerusalem” (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/279375) Support for Israel in the US is steadily declining, and is becoming more partisan (Republican.) It’s also quite possible that the Trump political brand will become toxic once he is out of office: anything associated with Trump may become an electoral liability subsequently; Kushner has come under particular opprobrium for his ubiquity. Does Netanyahu seize the moment to annex before November?
The second issue is one of political legacy: with a long-lived father, a 70-year old Netanyahu is less likely to drop dead soon. However, there’s a chance that he might be convicted, and have his political career end in jail. Netanyahu’s name might be more remembered as the Israeli PM who fulfilled the Zionist dream of seizing all the land between the River and the Sea than as the man who went to jail for corruption. Does Netanyahu risk it … ?