Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on the eve of the election that he intended to bring about the annexation of “every settlement point” in Judea and Samaria. Netanyahu mentioned annexation “by agreement,” and he probably did not mean the agreement of the Palestinians, but that of the United States. The White House did not respond to his statement, either not to hurt his campaign or because it is simply true. In the past, the American administration took exception to such statements.
On the face of it, this is just another of the baseless election promises that Netanyahu dispersed during his campaign in an attempt to siphon off votes from his partners on the right. This declaration may have been the one that cost Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, the leaders of Hayemin Hehadash, the 1,300 votes they needed to surmount the electoral threshold, and in this, there is some poetic justice: Netanyahu’s pledges to annex the territories destroyed the careers of the two politicians who headed the Knesset caucus pushing for the fulfillment of those promises.
These pledges did not especially stir public opinion in Israel for a number of possible reasons. They were marginal compared to the election’s main issue – Netanyahu, yes or no. It is also possible that most Jewish Israelis either support annexation or are indifferent about it, after Netanyahu caused them to lose faith in the two-state solution and all hope of an agreement with the Palestinians.
In the United States, however, Netanyahu’s words sparked a storm, especially in the Democratic Party, where a battle is now underway between the old pro-Israel establishment and the growing wing of the party that has strenuous reservations about Netanyahu and wants to reassess the knee-jerk support the administration gives him. The extent of this damage can be seen in a letter published over the weekend by four Jewish senior members of Congress with close ties to AIPAC. Annexation, they wrote, will destroy the two-state solution and could damage ties between Israel and the United States.
The Democrats are not taking Netanyahu’s promise lightly. After Trump bolstered Netanyahu’s campaign by recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, and in light of concerns that the president’s “deal of the century” is meant to elicit a Palestinian refusal, paving the way for annexation, it is reasonable to suspect that Netanyahu’s promises are not empty words but a real plan of action that will endanger the future of the peace process. It is possible that Netanyahu’s impressive victory has instilled in him the hubris that will now push him to fulfill his old dream of finally thwarting any possibility of the establishment of an independent Palestinian entity. The annexation of “every settlement point” will split the West Bank and leave the Palestinians imprisoned forever between the settlements and the access roads leading to them.
However, Netanyahu’s dream denies the reality that annexation will lower Israel’s standing, especially in Europe, perpetuate the conflict and even spark a new round of bloodshed and, most of all, will push Israel down the slippery slope at the bottom of which is an apartheid regime in every sense of the word.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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