Netanyahu’s Annexation Bet Drifts Farther Away From Jackpot

Not for the first time, there’s a gap between Benjamin Netanyahu’s promises and what he’s able to do in practice. For months, the prime minister has been stoking expectations on the right that the Jordan Valley and the West Bank settlements will be annexed to Israel. But as the original target date for the start of a possible annexation – July 1 – approaches, his plan is encountering opposition.

It doesn’t even meet the expectations of the majority of the settler leaders – the constituency with which Netanyahu wanted to curry favor in the first place. The situation now is that if sovereignty is applied, it will happen at a later date and in an abridged version.

– Annexation vexation comes between Bibi and the settlers

LISTEN: Annexation vexation comes between Bibi and the settlersHaaretz

Netanyahu’s gamble rests on an ostensible window of opportunity – the summer – in which he had hoped to rope in the Trump administration using the argument that annexation is the natural outcome of the Palestinians’ sweeping rejection of the U.S. president’s peace plan. The move would presumably buoy Donald Trump by firing up his evangelical voters, who admire Netanyahu, ahead of the presidential election in November.

But Trump now faces an economic and health crisis stemming from the coronavirus, and a broad national protest over police brutality against African Americans. It’s reasonable to assume that the annexation plan isn’t the main thing on his mind.

U.S. President Donald Trump walks to Marine One as he departs from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, June 11, 2020. AFP

In the meantime, Joe Biden has expressed strong objections to annexation. A similar stance is being taken by the European Union, which could impose sanctions on Israel, contrary to the fabricated palliatives emanating from the prime minister’s residence.

And then there’s Kahol Lavan. The party’s leaders, Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, are in constant contact with the White House peace team. They want to stretch out the timetable for implementing annexation and reduce its scale; maybe just a symbolic step involving the settlement blocs, particularly Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem. This week it was reported in Jordan that Gantz, the so-called alternate prime minister, might visit the kingdom as part of regional calming efforts.

Netanyahu’s gambit has an ideological backdrop as well. Israel’s longest-serving prime minister is looking for something to cement his  legacy.