Analysis

Netanyahu Gave Up on Annexation. Will His Voters Now Give Up on Him?

Even a fool won't believe the Israeli leader's claim that backing off of West Bank annexation as part of UAE deal is merely temporary

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Settler leader inspects a map of proposed West Bank annexation as part of Trump's Middle East plan at a rally in Jerusalem, June 21, 2020.
Settler leader inspects a map of proposed West Bank annexation as part of Trump's Middle East plan at a rally in Jerusalem, June 21, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

On Thursday evening, 24 years late, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally made good on his 1996 election slogan: “Netanyahu, making a safe peace.”

Normalizing relations with the United Arab Emirates may not be peace, but it’s the second-best thing. The move’s benefits are sevenfold in view of the price Israel had to pay: abandoning the annexation idea. Netanyahu, even if he did so against his will, chose not to drag the already flammable region into a dangerous chaos, which was the dream of the messianic settlers in the occupied territories. In return, he received a diplomatic coup under the auspices of President Donald Trump, who is aching to make a good deal on the way to the November 3 presidential election.

LISTEN: Trump's tragedy, Netanyahu's debt and Jewish unityCredit: Haaretz

Netanyahu would undoubtedly have preferred to let the annexation issue fade away in silence, to minimize the electoral damage among his constituency. But he isn’t the only dancer in this tango. The partners’ condition, which Trump went along with, was to put it in writing. “A senior official in the prime minister’s office” told reporters that applying Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank was only suspended. But even the most gullible sucker wouldn’t believe that anymore.

If Trump is reelected, he will strive to add other Muslim states to the normalization circle. Biden most certainly would, it goes without saying. So annexation can officially be declared dead and gone.

Locally, Thursday’s event may block Israel’s sliding on the slippery slope to a fourth election campaign in less than two years. The settlers’ hue and cry about the death of sovereignty in the West Bank included a clear threat that they won’t vote for Likud. For them, this broken promise is one too many. Even they see there’s no more air left in this balloon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing normalization of relations with the UAE at press conference in Jerusalem, August 13, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing normalization of relations with the UAE at press conference in Jerusalem, August 13, 2020. Credit: Jonathan Zindel

If, in another election, the disappointed right wing votes for Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party or stays home, the outcome would be critical for Netanyahu. His haters on the center-left won’t vote for him in any case. At best, his political situation won’t change. At worst, for him, the next poll will indicate another rise in Yamina’s power at the diminishing Likud’s expense.

At Thursday’s press conference, Netanyahu was asked why he didn’t inform Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz until after the deal was done. His answer was characteristically evasive. He said he had been asked to keep it a secret, to prevent “attempts to foil it,” on Iran’s part, for example. This is what he said about two former military chiefs of staff, and his senior minister, in whose hands secrets of no-less sensitivity had been entrusted. Was he hinting at Gantz’s phone, which was allegedly hacked by the Iranians? Or implying that Gantz and Ashkenazi would have leaked the talks before they had ripened, to rob him of a diplomatic achievement? It doesn’t really matter what he meant – it sounded bad, mean, malicious and unfair, even by Netanyahu’s own twisted standards.

The declaration of the U.S. administration’s support for Israel’s right to annex the occupied territories was made in the White House on January 28. Jonathan Orich, Netanyahu’s, spokesman, tweeted: “Annexation of the territories on Sunday.”

The settler leaders in Washington broke into a dance. On Thursday, it was another Netanyahu advisor, Topaz Luk, who was tweeting: “The left’s approach of ‘territories in exchange for peace’ has passed away. A historic day.”

You could put it that way. Or you might put it this way: If Netanyahu had insisted on annexing even one symbolic kilometer, there would have been no peace, and not even normalization.

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