With Hollow Annexation Talk, Netanyahu Is Trading in the Land of Israel

Israel Harel
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Netanyahu with settler representatives in the Jordan valley, February 2020.Credit: Ohad Ziegenberg
Israel Harel

On January 28 of this year, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu stood side by side at the White House and unveiled “the deal of the century” to their countrymen and the world. “Today Israel takes a big step towards peace,” Trump said, not knowing what a far-reaching step Netanyahu was actually taking.

“For too long,” Netanyahu said in remarks that followed, partly fawning and partly preaching to Trump, “the very heart of the Land of Israel, where our patriarchs prayed...and our kings ruled has been outrageously branded as illegally occupied territory. Well, today, Mr. President, you are puncturing this big lie. You are recognizing ... Bethel, where Jacob dreamed of a ladder ascending to the heavens; Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant that held the Ten Commandments [stood for 300 years].”

On that occasion of commitment – and this was his “big step” – the Israeli prime minister publicly recognized a sovereign Palestinian state, extending over some 70 percent of Judea and Samaria. At that event, he also recognized the “not one inch” principle that the Palestinians, the Americans and the European Union have been pursuing. Based on this principle, the Palestinians are entitled to full sovereignty over Judea and Samaria – about 6,000 square kilometers (or 2,300 square miles).

Because the territories that the Americans are recognizing in Judea and Samaria as earmarked for Israeli sovereignty reduce that area by some 30 percent, Netanyahu is prepared to designate some 2,000 square kilometers in the Western Negev – near the region from which 15 years ago Prime Minister Ariel Sharon uprooted 25 communities – for the Palestinians.

By so doing, Netanyahu also accepted the Palestinian “not one inch” principle. His public consent – that is, Israel’s consent – to concessions in Judea and Samaria and over sovereign Israeli territory in the Negev, was given of his own accord alone, without a resolution from the cabinet, the security cabinet or the Knesset.

Trump, who is superficial and doesn’t thoroughly examine even the most critical matters pertaining to the United States, is certainly not familiar with the details of the deal cooked up by Netanyahu and the American team, but like his predecessors as president, he is sticking to the principle of two states for two peoples.

The main difference between Trump and his predecessors is his break with the dogma that the Jews have no right to sovereignty – even of a limited scope – in areas that were the birthplace of the Jewish people. Along came Netanyahu and Trump’s (Jewish) team, who came to agreement that such a right does exist, and that its details are embodied in Netanyahu’s two-state vision.

Exactly 11 years ago, in his Bar-Ilan University speech, Netanyahu recognized the principle of two states for two peoples – and back then, although he didn’t make it publicly known, he intended that there be a 70/30 division. Since then, he has sought to put that recognition into practice, while not sharing his intentions with his Likud party.

The previous U.S. administrations were not prepared to recognize even the little that Netanyahu was willing to settle for. Until Trump came along. This is, if you will, Netanyahu’s diplomatic calling card.

In his willingness to give up parts of the Negev, Netanyahu is reiterating the precedents of some of his predecessors whom he has called “leftists.” Israel’s sovereignty over its homeland, it turns out, is limited, and anyone who wants to engage in trading its diplomatic, geographic and historical sovereignty is free to do so.

On his departure from the White House in January, Netanyahu promised that the plan would be approved at the following Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Later he set July 1 as the day on which sovereignty would be declared, similar to the declaration of Israel’s independence in 1948. On July 1, he and his circle of acolytes said, thousands would throng the streets dancing and many would recite the Shehecheyanu prayer, which is delivered on momentous occasions. Indeed, thousands did take to the streets on July 1 – for lamentation and protest.

In the past several months, Netanyahu has demonstrated the full extent of his moral weakness and weakness as a leader. If Likud wishes to exist and to (continue) to govern, it needs to quickly get him out of the Prime Minister’s Residence.