Annexation Target Date Is Here, but Israel Made Hardly Any Preparations, Officials Admit

Questions posed to officials from various ministries show little in-depth cabinet discussion, no legal prep and no diplomatic policy

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The Jordan Valley, June 1, 2020.
The Jordan Valley, June 1, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

On July 1, the day the government chose as the target date for launching annexation steps in the West Bank, it turned out that the diplomatic-security cabinet has yet to discuss the issue in any depth. Israeli missions abroad still don’t have a policy to explain it, and the Justice Ministry has not made any arrangements for the legal consequences and is not involved in the National Security Council’s preparations.

Moreover, while the Foreign Ministry, in coordination with Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, did prepare a document mapping the legal issues that will have to be examined ahead of annexation, they have yet to be explored.

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The head of the National Security Council’s intelligence branch, Rani Peled, said during Wednesday’s hearing of the Knesset’s State Control Committee that the diplomatic-security cabinet will only hold a lengthy discussion on annexation “in the coming days.” He added that he hoped that “perhaps the diplomatic position will be formulated by the hearing and the cabinet ministers will be able to relate to it concretely.”

In other words, no such position has been formulated at all. He said that so far, there has been one meeting during which there was discussion of “the possible repercussions of imposing sovereignty.” He added that the National Security Council prepared a document on the repercussions of annexation, which was presented “to the prime minister and to a number of security officials over the past month.”

State Control Committee Chairman Ofer Shelah asked him, “What did you base your document on?” Peled responded: “The head of the National Security Council participated in a discussion at the prime minister’s residence with the alternate prime minister [Benny Gantz] and defense establishment representatives, and there, matters were presented in detail. The army, for all intents and purposes, was asked as a working assumption to prepare for a target date, and everyone knows what the Trump plan discusses.”

Knesset State Control Committee Chairman Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) talks to journalists after a meeting at the Knesset, March 11, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Shelah asked: “Even if you claim that the Trump plan was published and everyone is familiar with it for the purpose of preparation, clearly there is a great difference between imposing sovereignty over 30 percent of the territory, imposing sovereignty over just Gush Etzion or imposing sovereignty strictly over the Jordan Valley. How can one decide without this basis?” Peled responded that “in the discussions in which the chief of staff has participated and participates in, the various scenarios for preparation are discussed.”

When attorney Noam Neumann, the head of the Justice Ministry’s rules of war unit, was asked to detail the extent of his ministry’s involvement in the National Security Council’s preparation for annexation, he responded, “there is an internal dialogue within the Justice Ministry on the subject of applying the law, but as of now there isn’t any involvement of the Justice Ministry in the National Security Council’s administrative work.” He added: “The Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser did coordinate a position paper with us that he submitted to the National Security Council, but beyond that we were not asked, the Justice Ministry’s opinion was not offered, and a ministry representative was not incorporated into the discussions.”

Asked by Haaretz why the Justice Ministry was left out of the preparatory process at the National Security Council, a response was issued by the council stated that “the claim that the Justice Ministry was not involved is incorrect.” The statement noted, “The work on the diplomatic and security repercussions of extending sovereignty also took into account the opinion of the Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser, which was given with the knowledge of the attorney general.”

It added that “when additional legal opinions will be required, the National Security Council will receive them from the legal opinions of various bodies, and the Justice Ministry, in close discussion with it. In general, it was impossible to present all the details in the public part of the discussion. They were presented during the closed parts of the discussion.”

Still, it emerged that the document in question, issued by the Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser, which was mentioned as the only document prepared on the matter and indeed was coordinated with Attorney General Mendelblit, addressed in general the legal issues to be examined ahead of annexation moves. In other words, the document was meant to raise the problems that have to be prepared for – and the work of legal preparation itself ahead of any annexation has yet to be done. When asked why it has not made preparations in advance of annexation, the Justice Ministry refused to respond, saying instead "We have no intention to comment on internal, governmental administrative work."

The deputy director of public diplomacy within the Foreign Ministry, Noam Katz, also admitted that his ministry does not know exactly which scenario it is preparing for and how they are supposed to answer world leaders. “The Foreign Ministry gave a clear directive to establish teams within the ministry that would carry out situational assessments for all the different possibilities and to keep them constantly updated,” he said. “When a meeting is set in the cabinet, we will present them to the minister, and he will present to the cabinet. We are also holding ongoing discussions with the National Security Council. When there will be a meeting in the cabinet, we will be present.”

Regarding Shelah’s question about what Israeli representations abroad are basing their actions on and what they are telling foreign leaders, Katz commented: “We are listening to them and hearing what they have to say on the issue, and given that a specific policy has yet to be determined, they are repeating the positions the state has expressed in the past regarding our security and diplomatic interests.”

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