Netanyahu's Dangerous Annexation Spin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2019.
Alexander Zemlianichenko / Reuters

The closer Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets to the finish line of this election, the harder he breaks rightward. The panic that’s gripping him given the high motivation to replace him, and his understanding that he is facing an alternative with a security record that can’t be portrayed as leftist, and which is running neck-and-neck with Likud in the polls, has forced him to pull out the annexation card and wave it at the right-wing electorate.

Netanyahu addressed the annexation of the West Bank in several interviews he gave over the weekend. In all these interviews he delivered various versions of the same message. “We are in discussions about annexation of the Etzion Bloc [south of Jerusalem]. I intend to apply sovereignty over the region, but I do not distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated spots;” “All the settlements – [in the] blocs or not – have to remain under Israeli sovereignty.” When asked if he expects U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize the West Bank as Israeli sovereign territory as he did with the Golan Heights, he responded, “Wait till the next term.”

>> Read more: Netanyahu talks West Bank annexation after election – but thwarted all efforts in the past | Analysis ■ Annexing the West Bank: Why we must take Netanyahu's pre-election stunt seriously | Opinion

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It’s clear that Netanyahu’s words are meant for right-wing ears, more specifically those voters wavering between Likud and the even more extreme right-wing parties that are promoting annexation as part of their agenda.

If Netanyahu had been interested in annexing the Area C (which covers 60 percent of the West Bank) or sections of it, he would have exploited his 10 years in power to do so. If he had been seriously interested in annexation, he would have attended the December 2017 meeting of the Likud Central Committee, which voted in favor of the resolution to “apply Israeli law and sovereignty on all the liberated settlement areas of Judea and Samaria.”

Some 1,500 people attended that event, as did nearly all the Likud ministers, who spoke in favor of annexation while Netanyahu chose not to show up. If the prime minister was really interested in annexation, he would have taken advantage of the influence he has in the White House to obtain support for it, just as he got the U.S. Embassy moved to Jerusalem and Israeli sovereignty recognized in the Golan Heights.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu’s remarks are dangerous, primarily because they contribute to normalizing the discussion about annexing Area C, which until not that long ago was considered a marginal idea – although that margin has admittedly widened in recent years as the Israeli public leans increasingly to the right.

What begins as election campaign spin can, during coalition bargaining, turn into an official agenda, and then, with the help of a sympathetic U.S. president and an evangelical tailwind, become reality and make the temporary apartheid permanent. This is another reason to vote for parties that oppose annexation.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.