Recent polls show that barely a third of the public supports a unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank, and that annexation is actually at the bottom of its list of priorities. Outside Israel, opposition to unilateral annexation has been sweeping. Not only is there no international consent to it, but European Union members are even threatening sanctions.
Moreover, the assumption that Arab states, especially the Gulf States, support the annexation plan has proven baseless. As the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, warned last week, in Hebrew, annexation would harm Israel’s ties with his country and other Arab states.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mocked the Kahol Lavan party this week, saying he doesn’t know what its position on annexation is. But his own position on annexation is also a mystery, especially given the fact that during his previous 11 years as prime minister, he hasn’t annexed so much as a millimeter. Granted, Netanyahu has specified July 1 as the official date for announcing his annexation plan, but so far, there isn’t even a map of the plan.
The United States also has more pressing issues. The coronavirus pandemic and the wave of protests are preoccupying President Donald Trump, especially since elections are round the corner and his position in the polls has slipped. But none of this has cooled the enthusiasm of the champion of the whole Land of Israel within the White House, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Friedman supports annexation and is pushing for it, certainly more than either Israel’s prime minister or its alternate prime minister, and he’s more determined than either of them not to let the settlers’ window of opportunity close without annexing as much territory as possible with as few Palestinians as possible.
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In this sense, it’s not at all clear who Friedman represents. His position is more extreme than that of either the Americans or the Israeli government and is boycotted by the Palestinians. Even the settlers’ Yesha Council, for its own reasons, opposes the plan, so even his settler friends aren’t backing him.
As an “honest broker,” Friedman’s behavior is unprecedented. Instead of mediating between Israel and the Palestinians and getting the Palestinian president to return to the negotiating table, Friedman has spent the last few weeks energetically mediating between Netanyahu and his alternate prime minister, Benny Gantz. For anyone observing from the sidelines, from any side, it’s clear that the only consensus Friedman seeks as a “broker” is an internal Israeli one.
Israel has a host of problems even without an annexation that would endanger its stability and the stability of the entire region. It certainly doesn’t need Friedman as a third prime minister flanking the two official ones on the right. Someone ought to remind him that he is actually just America’s ambassador to Israel.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.