Over the weekend, Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in for another stint as Israel’s prime minister. This time, he’s the head of a coalition government and, if the agreement he struck with the opposition holds, will serve for only 18 months.
Netanyahu doesn’t want to waste them. His next big initiative will be the annexation of portions of the West Bank. Netanyahu wants to get this done before the U.S. presidential election because Joe Biden would likely oppose annexation, and proceeding against America’s wishes would pose a big risk for Israel.
The question is, what to annex. Annexation of the large settlements that, in effect, are suburbs of Jerusalem should be a no-brainer. Other established settlements should also be included.
Even if one takes the “peace process” seriously, established settlements will be part of Israel under any peace agreement it would sign. Everyone understands this, or should. Thus, it does no violence to future prospects for peace with the Palestinians to recognize reality and annex these settlements. They should fully be integrated into Israel.
It also makes sense to annex territory on the West Bank that Israel considers vital to its defense if, one day, there is a state for Palestinian state. This means the Jordan Valley — the area between the West Bank ridgeline and the Jordan River. That territory plus the settlements apparently amounts to about 30 percent of the West Bank.
Regarding the Jordan valley, Armin Rosen notes:
Even some of the leading figures in the history of the more left-wing Labor Party might have agreed with a Jordan Valley annexation, at least in principle: Yigal Allon’s post-1967 war plan imagined the valley would remain in Israeli hands while much of the rest of the West Bank would be returned to Jordan. In his final speech to the Knesset, Yitzhak Rabin advocated an Israeli security border that extended to the West Bank ridgeline.
How would the Trump administration view these annexations? The U.S. ambassador to Israel has told Israeli media that, with Netanyahu having expressed his willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians, the U.S. is “ready to recognize” Israeli sovereignty over the settlements.
This is consistent with America’s position that annexation should not look like a land grab and should not preclude the so-called two-state solution. Annexing existing settlements would do neither.
As for the Jordan Valley, Rosen says its population is relatively small and more or less evenly divided between Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants. Thus, annexing this area arguably falls within with U.S. parameters, as well.
Netanyahu must also take into account the views of his coalition partner, Benny Gantz. According to Rosen, the two partners are in “general agreement” regarding the annexations described above. We’ll see.
Israel’s relations with Arab states are another consideration worth mentioning. This consideration points the same way as those already discussed.
Key Arab states have a strategic interest in a working relationship with Israel. They aren’t likely to jeopardize that relationship over a relatively small West Bank annexation that simply recognizes reality. But an overly aggressive annexation might make life difficult for Arab leaders who work with Israel. It is not in Israel’s interest to do that.
Under Netanyahu’s deal with Gantz, he can begin formally seeking annexation on July 1. He won’t hesitate to push for this crowning achievement of his unprecedentedly long run as prime minister of Israel.