Analysis |

House Resolution on Annexation Is a Wake-up Call for Israel and Netanyahu

House Resolution 326 is non-binding, but the Democrats’ warning is crystal clear: Israel’s total alignment with Trump comes at a price

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Netanyahu meets with Pompeo, Lisbon, December 4, 2019.
Netanyahu meets with Pompeo, Lisbon, December 4, 2019.Credit: AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The resolution approved by the House of Representatives on Friday about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has garnered very little media attention in either the U.S. or Israel.

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The resolution, formally known as H.Res. 326, is declaratory and non-binding. It is one of 394 so-called “simple resolutions” passed by the current House of Representatives and like most of them, does nothing to change the reality on the ground.

And yet, the agreement of the Democratic majority to approve a resolution that advocates a two-state solution and, more significantly, expresses opposition to “unilateral annexation of territory” is a watershed event. It marks a line in the sand. And, to mix metaphors, it sends a shot across the bow to Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right, dispelling their illusion that their planned annexation of the Jordan Valley can be carried out with no risk and cost-free. 

In the short term, the resolution might actually enhance the prospects of annexation. Despite the State Department’s embarrassing denial on Saturday of Netanyahu’s claim that he raised his annexation proposal during his Lisbon meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, the notoriously contrarian Trump might relish an opportunity to rebuff the Democratic majority in the House and continue his efforts to paint the Democratic Party as anti-Israel. His upcoming speech to the Israeli American Council on Saturday night provides Trump with an ideal forum to thumb his nose at Democrats – and Pompeo – while expressing support for Netanyahu’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley, if he so wishes.

In days of yore, when Netanyahu still cared about “bipartisan support” and was careful not to strain Israeli ties with either side of the congressional aisle, H.Res.326 might have compelled him to reconsider his plea for annexation. In that long-gone era when Netanyahu’s main focus was on advancing Israeli national security interests rather than finagling his way out of criminal indictments, he would have reminded himself that in less than 12 months, the U.S. might elect a Democratic president who would not take kindly to an Israeli prime minister who had ignored the near-unanimous position of the Democratic majority in the House.

In fact, were it not for Netanyahu’s willingness to pay any price, bear any burden and meet any hardship in order to safeguard his own liberty, he would have refrained from proposing annexation in the first place, even with Trump as president.

The prospect of angering Democrats, sparking condemnation from Europe and, most dramatically, causing the immense damage that annexation would inevitably inflict on Israel’s peaceful relations with Jordan would have sufficed to deter him.

Netanyahu’s bid to annex the Jordan Valley has far more to do with politics and personal survival than any overriding Israeli security interest. Netanyahu floated the idea, which enjoys wide support in Israeli public opinion, in order to embarrass his center-left rivals into either showing weakness by supporting him or exposing themselves to charges of defeatism if they oppose. In essence, Netanyahu’s bid to annex is nothing more than a bribe to his right-wing coalition in exchange for its support for his continued reign as prime minister, despite the attorney general’s decision to indict him on three separate counts of corruption.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presides over a vote in the House of Representatives, October 31, 2019.Credit: TOM BRENNER/ REUTERS

In his desperate bid to stay in power, Netanyahu’s interests have increasingly diverged from those of the country he leads. His approach is encapsulated in the famous saying attributed to French King Louis XV – or his consort, Madame de Pompadour – “Après nous, le déluge.” Annexation may serve Netanyahu’s self-centered and short-term personal interests, but, as the House resolution makes clear, the move could inflict long-term damage on Israel long after he’s gone.

Netanyahu himself bears much of the responsibility for the rare House rebuke. In many ways, the House was expressing its personal displeasure with the prime minister. Netanyahu’s strained ties with Barack Obama and enthusiastic embrace of Donald Trump insulted Democratic lawmakers; his increasingly nationalistic and xenophobic statements and policies alienated them; and his recently acquired disdain for Democrats and all they represent has infuriated them.

At the same time, the resolution reflects the growing distance between Netanyahu’s Israel and the increasingly left-leaning Democratic majority.  The nay vote by the so-called “squad” – including Muslim lawmakers Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar along with New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – because it expresses unconditional support for Israel’s wellbeing and omits any mention of the “occupation,” helps to cast it as balanced. The fact remains, however, that an overwhelming majority of the Democratic contingent in the House – 221 out of 233 – including strong Israel supporters who had hitherto refrained from voicing any criticism whatsoever, highlighted the growing gap between the party and not only Netanyahu, but also Israel’s right wing as a whole.

The resolution was also – perhaps mainly – aimed at expressing displeasure with Trump’s one-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Pompeo’s recent declaration that the U.S. does not view settlements as illegal. Israelis should be wary of the precedent set by Trump of trying to reverse any and all policies pursued by his predecessor Barack Obama, including the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump and Netanyahu embrace in the Oval Office, March 25, 2019.Credit: Susan Walsh,AP

If Democrats recapture the White House and emulate Trump by taking completely contrary positions, Israel could be made to pay for more than just mere annexation.

The resolution marks a clear-cut victory for the left-leaning lobby J Street, which supported the resolution, over its main rival AIPAC, which kept its distance in public and expressed displeasure in private. Ambassador Ron Dermer’s ongoing boycott of the liberal lobby has apparently and predictably failed to impress Democratic lawmakers in Washington. Quite the contrary.

In the midst of its unprecedented constitutional crisis, which could see the Knesset dispersing this week and heading for a third election in a year, few Israelis are likely to pay much attention to H.Res.326. Nonetheless, it is a harbinger of things to come, if and when Trump leaves the White House.

Netanyahu has deluded Israelis to believe that the Trump presidency is a win-win situation, with presidential benefits accrued at no costs, now or in the future. The House of Representatives has just dispelled that delusion: When Bibi’s party is over, Democrats warned, Israel is going to wake up with a painful hangover. And if it continues to put all of its eggs in Trump’s basket, there will be a steep price to pay.