Analysis

Trump Won't Just 'Allow' Netanyahu’s West Bank Annexation – He'll Force It

With coronavirus hurting his chances in November's election, U.S. president will be desperate to appease his most loyal ace of base: Christian evangelicals

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Benjamin Netanyahu talks as Donald Trump watches during a Holocaust commemoration ceremony, Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Jerusalem, May 23, 2017.
Benjamin Netanyahu talks as Donald Trump watches during a Holocaust commemoration ceremony, Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Jerusalem, May 23, 2017.Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

In Israel’s April 2019 election, the main parties running to the right of Likud, including those that didn’t make it past the threshold, garnered a total of 9.66 percent of the vote. In the September election, they received a grand total of 7.75 percent. In the recent March 2 election, their share was down to 5.66 percent of the vote. Within a year, the parties representing the religious right lost over 40 percemt of their support.

There are myriad personal, organizational and conjectural reasons for the dramatic crash of these parties, which aim to represent the interests of Jewish settlers in particular and religious-Zionist Israelis in general, but the leading factor is simple: They are no longer needed. Other than caring for proper funding for the religious-Zionist school network, these satellites of Likud have lost their purpose. The coalition agreement between Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz only highlights their redundancy.

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Not only has their Weltanschauung been embraced by the right wing as a whole, and not only does Netanyahu and his Likud best represent their interests, but the Jewish settlers enjoy the unqualified support of a nationalist-clerical movement far more powerful and influential than Israel’s diminishing national-religious bloc: Christian evangelicals. When your lobby is a pivotal foundation of power and support for the president of the United States, religious-Zionist mainstays such as Yamina’s Naftali Bennett or Ayelet Shaked, currently desperate to secure a spot in Netanyahu’s new cabinet, may seem a tad pathetic.

It’s hard to overstate the extent and degree of Trump’s reliance on evangelical voters. They are the ace of his base. A quarter of U.S. voters define themselves as white evangelicals. They gave Trump a whopping 76 to 19 percent advantage against Hillary Clinton in 2016 and seem on track to give him a similar push in 2020. In a Pew Research survey carried out in February, on the eve of the coronavirus outbreak, 81 percent of evangelicals said Trump fights for their cause: 76 percent said they agree with him on most issues; 69 percent said he was honest.

Trump’s scandalous mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis makes his reliance on evangelicals absolute. Without their full and enthusiastic enlistment, up to and including the very last believer, not only does Trump stand a good chance of losing the swing states that enabled his victory in 2016, he could very well be beaten in longstanding Republican strongholds as well, including North Carolina and Texas, in which evangelicals comprise about a third of the voting public.

Which is why the very thought – or hope – that Trump will behave like a responsible statesman and stop the new Netanyahu government from annexing the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the West Bank is ludicrous. With a crumbling economy, an ongoing epidemic and the death of tens of thousands of Americans blamed on his mismanagement; with his back to the wall, polls in free fall and GOP colleagues starting to voice concerns about losing the Senate – Trump won’t dare disappoint his loyal evangelical legions. They want annexation, and annexation they will get.

Donald Trump participates in a prayer before speaking at an Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch at the King Jesus International Ministry in Miami, FL, U.S., January 3, 2020.
Donald Trump participates in a prayer before speaking at an Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch at the King Jesus International Ministry in Miami, FL, U.S., January 3, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Trump won’t be deterred by the threat of Palestinian violence, the danger of rupture with Jordan, protestations by Arab states or punishment of Israel by the European Union. Such trifles, as well as the future of the peace process and the fate of Israeli democracy, couldn’t interest him less, even on the best of days. The only thing that interests Trump is Trump, especially when his fate and his legacy are hanging in the balance in the November 3 ballot.

Even if Netanyahu, Gantz and their colleagues are deterred at the very last minute by the irreparable harm they are about to inflict on themselves, it will be too late. There’s no turning back. If Israel hesitates, Trump will compel it to annex. Instead of putting on the brakes, as his predecessors would, Trump will hit the gas pedal. Netanyahu, who owes his life to Trump, won’t dare stop him or say no.

But for settlers, annexationists and other enemies of the two-state solution, the obvious question is: With “friends” like these, who needs Yamina?

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