Analysis

The Fate of Netanyahu's Annexation Isn't in His Government's Hands

In his planned annexation of West Bank territory, Netanyahu may meet resistance in the form of Jared Kushner

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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A Jerusalem billboard reading 'No! To a Palestinian state: Sovereignty, do it right!' from the Yesha Council of settlements, June 10, 2020.
A Jerusalem billboard reading 'No! To a Palestinian state: Sovereignty, do it right!' from the Yesha Council of settlements, June 10, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The final version of the annexation plan won’t be determined by the balance of power between Likud and Kahol Lavan in the cabinet, and apparently not by the objections being expressed by the heads of the defense establishment, either.

It seems that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is discounting the weight of the first issue, and it’s doubtful that he attributes too much significance to the second, even though in the past he tended to listen to the warnings of senior Israel Defense Forces officers and Shin Bet security service officials.

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The fate and the size of the annexation will in the end be determined by Washington and Jerusalem, in accordance with the pressure that will be exerted by the White House, after the internal struggle within the administration’s peace team is sorted out.

Netanyahu dropped the annexation bomb into the already raging fire of the Middle East in the midst of the coronavirus crisis for clearly personal reasons. The promises of annexation allowed him to put a new issue on the national agenda as his trial was opening for bribery and breach of trust. The old arguments of “there will be nothing” because they won’t find real evidence against him have been long forgotten. They have not been heard since an indictment was issued and the scope of the evidence the prosecution has in hand became clear. Instead, there is now an ideological argument being made aimed at strengthening right-wing support for his moves against the judicial system.

In an unprecedented appearance in the lobby of the Jerusalem District Court before his trial opened last month, Netanyahu presented this argument: Prosecuting him is essentially a leftist plot aimed at removing a prime minister who is trying to protect the Land of Israel. If he would have agreed to be an “obedient poodle,” as he put it, the deep state would have allowed him to remain in office. Likud MKs and ministers, who had been summoned to serve as extras in this performance, nodded in agreement behind their masks.

The ideological argument comes in conjunction with the orchestrated campaign against Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. This came to its logical result on Sunday when the Bibi-ists began to tweet that if the attorney general is suspected of crimes, because of his behavior during the Harpaz affair, it surely follows that he must cancel the indictment he filed against Netanyahu. How that argument might affect the validity of all the other indictments filed here over the past few years remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the online lynching of Mendelblit aims to create deterrence in another issue that’s worrying the Balfour Street residents: progress in the investigation of the stocks that Netanyahu got from his cousin, itself an offshoot of the submarines and patrol boats investigation (Case 3000). Putting Amir Ohana in charge of the Public Security Ministry (which oversees the police) was meant to serve as a restraint on a broader investigation by the police, which is headed by an acting commissioner who is eager to be permanently appointed.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana outside the Jerusalem District Court at the beginning of Netanyahu's trial, May 24, 2020.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana outside the Jerusalem District Court at the beginning of Netanyahu's trial, May 24, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Another difficulty facing Netanyahu is from Washington. Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, is, according to reports, espousing restraint and seeking to limit or delay the annexation plan. Then there was the essay published in Yedioth Ahronoth by UAE Minister of State Yousef al-Otaiba, in which he warned Israel of the serious consequences that annexation could have on the warming of relations between Israel and the Gulf states.

That article stuck a sharp pin in the balloon sent up by the Prime Minister’s Office, which indicated that the Gulf states intended to let a unilateral annexation by Israel pass without comment. One can assume we will soon hear similar public comments from Jordan. Amman is even more concerned about the ramifications of annexation, particularly if it takes place in the Jordan Valley.

Another major consideration is the position of America’s Democratic Party. Presumptive presidential candidate Joe Biden strongly opposes annexation, and one cannot find a single voice in the Democratic Party who supports Netanyahu on this issue. With the polls in the United States currently pointing to a Biden victory in November’s presidential election, Netanyahu must take this into account.

The prime minister hasn’t given any indication that he might abandon his plans. He will have a hard time walking back his promise to the right, a substantial portion of which, including the settler leaders, are rejecting the proposed annexation plan because it doesn’t cover some of the settlements and outposts. July 1 is an opening date, not an end date. It could be that Netanyahu will be forced to reduce the pace of his annexation program, especially since it will be hard to focus Trump’s attention on it with all that’s going on now in the United States.

The Palestinian Authority has been regularly threatening to cut ties with Israel and to abandon the Oslo Accords if there’s an annexation. But Israel is facing a parallel problem with Gaza. In recent days there have been new launches of incendiary balloons from the Strip. There are also threats to resume the activity of Hamas’ “night riot units,” which for months were conducting nightly provocations near the border fence, until earlier this year.

This is also connected to the threat of annexation. If the PA and Fatah are threatening Israel, Hamas cannot remain behind. Any escalation in the West Bank will influence the force of the violence from Gaza.

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