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To Annex or Not to Annex?

To Annex or Not to Annex?


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

It is not clear that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Government really want to annex 30% of the West Bank as called for in the Trump Peace Plan.  While there are definitely groups in Israel which favor annexation, many of them do not want the 30% being suggested without the other 70% of Judea and Samaria. In addition, many of those in this camp do not want the Israeli Government to even consider a Palestinian State as also is called for in the Trump Proposal.

Many Israeli political analysts suggest that Netanyahu himself does not truly support annexation—certainly not at this time–although he in existential terms he believes in the concept of a Greater Israel. The new Government will address the issue in the beginning of July, but there is no consensus supporting annexation.

From a security perspective, the current situation is probably optimal. Israeli forces working with Palestinian security forces have developed an effective working relationship on the West Bank. Their joint operating system will be shattered with annexation intensifying the problems for the Israel Defense Forces.  In addition, maintaining viable border security will be challenged. Ultimately, the issues which will influence the annexation decision largely will be external ones; regional considerations, European push-back, and President Trump’s electability in November.

Netanyahu recognizes the progress that Israel has achieved in creating a place for itself in the region as a result of Israel’s ability to support the Trump Administration’s decision to abrogate the Iran deal. Its anti-Iran policy has enabled Israel to gain very strong support from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and most of the Gulf States. Having the IDF on its side emboldens the Sunni leaders and costs them very little political capital. Economically, Israel has found itself with opportunities in training and high tech, much of which has been fostered by the Arab world’s–never actually expressed– respect for Israel’s military prowess.

Certainly before the pandemic most of the major European countries supported working for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians; viewed the West Bank settlements as a manifestation of Israeli occupation; and were inclined at least to turn a blind eye to the BDS movement. Unilateral Israeli annexation is unacceptable to most of Europe, with likely economic consequences to Israel if it proceeds with such a move.

It is ultimately Netanyahu’s relationship with Donald Trump and his perception of what the unpredictable American President could do if Israel does not heel to his whistle. Bibi knows that he must avoid alienating Trump while also preparing for a potential Biden Administration next January. While this may be obvious, it is also a fraught with real dangers for Israel.

While the former Vice-President has already said he would not move the U.S. Embassy back to Tel-Aviv from Jerusalem, Joe Biden is unlikely to give Bibi all the political leeway that Trump has given Israel. In all likelihood, Netanyahu will not be able to make an end-run around Speaker Nancy Pelosi as he did with Speaker John Boehner who permitted Bibi to do, in the midst of the congressional debate over the Iran nuclear deal. One must hope that regardless of what Bibi is doing himself, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is already resurrecting its Democratic contact list to prepare for 2021.

Given Biden’s long-standing strong relationship with the Jewish community and his years of support of Israel, the relationship could be seriously upset if Israel expects a Biden Administration to give it a free pass with annexation. Trump may want annexation now to curry more support from his Evangelical base or the right-wing Orthodox Jewish voters. One should hope that Netanyahu’s understanding of American politics is considerably more sophisticated than is President Trump’s and that he will finesse the pressure for annexation. Failure to do so could start the his relationship with a Biden Administration on a very difficult path.

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