For Netanyahu, Annexation May Spell Little Gain, and Lots of Pain

Considering what’s at stake, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t displaying much concern or taking any unusual steps. The number of new coronavirus infections has been surging, economists are warning of a prolonged and widespread crisis, and the freebie newspaper that’s close to him is trumpeting daily headlines urging Israel not to miss the historic opportunity to restore areas of the homeland to our full sovereignty. The prime minister is actually spending plenty of time in his office, keeping his distance from the Knesset and watching lots of television, even if not at the level of commitment that characterizes his pal, U.S. President Donald Trump.

– Bibi Eyes ‘Annexation Lite’ as Pandemic Panic Returns

LISTEN: Bibi Eyes ‘Annexation Lite’ as Pandemic Panic Returns

The number of security discussions he holds has diminished of late. Netanyahu did not trust the previous defense minister, Naftali Bennett, and delegated few powers to him. But he’s granting more leeway to the new minister (and alternate prime minister), Benny Gantz. Some of the few discussions that are being held are focusing primarily on the annexation plan in the West Bank, but as far as is known they have not gone into great detail as yet. The security cabinet rarely meets. The meetings about the coronavirus have shifted into higher gear lately, because of the renewed rise in the incidence of disease. But these meetings have dealt primarily with toughening the policy of fines and with the restoration of invasive Shin Bet security service tracking, despite the pronounced opposition of the Shin Bet itself.

Netanyahu doesn’t really need Gantz and his Kahol Lavan party to get his annexation law passed in the Knesset. Even without them he’s likely to command a significant majority, thanks to the yes votes of two opposition parties, Yamina and Yisrael Beiteinu. The problem lies in article 28 of the coalition agreement between Likud and Kahol Lavan, which stipulates that Netanyahu and Gantz will work in full agreement with the United States in regard to the Trump plan, “including on the issue of the maps with the Americans and with international dialogue on the subject.” The Americans have made it clear that they want the annexation decision to be made on the basis of a governmental consensus in Israel. But less than week before the target date of July 1 that was set for the start of the annexation process, the open question is what Washington wants, and even more, who decides what it wants.

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An Israeli settler looking at a map of Israel’s potential annexation of parts of the West Bank, during a protest against Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, June 21, 2020.Ohad Zwigenberg

In retrospect, one of the most amazing developments of recent years is the success of the Yesha Council of settlements in hijacking American foreign policy in the Middle East. That Trump’s confidant and friend of the settlers David Friedman insinuated himself into the position of U.S. ambassador to Israel has played a major role in stirring the current brouhaha. Friedman has pushed tirelessly for annexation. This week he was in Washington for consultations. The Israeli embassy in the American capital has no idea what the ambassador is planning, what the president will decide or what the third side of the triangle, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, will decide on the subject.

– Conway.

When @ChrisSheridan34 asked Kellyanne Conway if we will get an announcement from the WH on the proposed Israeli annexation on the West Bank

— Alan Fisher (@AlanFisher) June 24, 2020

Trump’s adviser, Kellyanne Conway, on Wednesday promised a “big announcement” by the president on the annexation issue. Beyond that, it was impossible to infer anything about Trump’s intentions from what she said. But it seems Netanyahu is already planning to execute his move next week.

The assessment that’s increasingly taking hold in the defense establishment and in the political arena is that Netanyahu is considering a symbolic, limited annexation, possibly of the Ma’aleh Adumim area, which is close to Jerusalem and deep within the Israeli national consensus. In the prime minister’s meeting with the settlers’ leaders, the idea was raised of a two-pronged annexation. But a good many in the Yesha leadership are opposed to a partial annexation (of even 30 percent of the territory), suspecting that Netanyahu will not keep his promise of a second annexation in the future. They have already been stung by him in the past.