Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists he’s prepared to implement the unilaterally annexation of the biblical heartlands of Judea and Samaria. Critics say it’s just campaign rhetoric to spur his voter base three weeks before Israel returns to the polls.
US President Donald Trump turned Middle East peace-making on its head last month when he finally unveiled his “Peace to Prosperity” proposal, more commonly referred to as the “deal of the century.”
For the first time, a major Western peace broker had proposed Israeli sovereignty over most Jewish settlements in the so-called “West Bank” as a predetermined outcome of peace negotiations.
Israel took that as a green light.
“We are already at the height of the process of mapping the area that, according to the Trump plan, will become part of the State of Israel. It won’t take too long,” Netanyahu said at a campaign rally over the weekend in the Jerusalem-area Jewish settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
No better opportunity
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett urged Netanyahu to annex Judea and Samaria now, before it’s too late.
“There will never be a better opportunity to impose sovereignty over our land,” Bennett said on Friday. “Without sovereignty, we’ll get a terrorist Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Tempering expectations a little bit, Netanyahu told a gathering in Beit Shemesh last week that he’ll only be able to begin implementing annexation if and after he wins reelection.
“We in the Likud cannot allow this historic opportunity to slip away from us,” said Bibi. “We brought it and we are here to realize it. But to secure it, to secure Israel’s borders, to secure Israel’s future, I need this time that all Likud members, all Likudniks, will come out to vote.”
Netanyahu warned that were his rival, “Blue and White” party chief Benny Gantz, to become prime minister, Israel would miss out entirely on this “historic opportunity.”
“Gantz says he accepts the plan, but he adds a minor addition. He says: ‘I will accept the program but only by agreement, by international agreement.’ I mean, everything I said, the Palestinians have to agree to it, the UN has to agree to it, the EU has to agree to it,” Netanyahu stated, suggesting that under Gantz, annexation would simply never happen.
Bibi’s empty promises
But there are those, even to the right of the political spectrum, who say that Netanyahu, too, will never actually annex the 30 percent of Judea and Samaria that the Trump plan includes in Israel’s future borders.
“Let’s not lie to ourselves. Nothing will happen after the election. Anyone relying on Netanyahu to apply sovereignty over one grain of sand in Judea and Samaria after the election, he is wrong,” asserted Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party.
Liberman became something of a kingmaker after the September election, when both Netanyahu and Gantz desperately courted him to join their respective coalitions.
But Liberman and Netanyahu have been at odds for years already, and even over the matter of Jewish sovereignty in the biblical heartland.
Liberman told activists with the “Sovereignty” movement that already last year he had pushed to extend Israeli law over the Jordan Valley, only to have the bill squashed by none other than Netanyahu.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration appears to be growing uneasy over how quickly the Israelis are running with what they see as White House approval for them to unconditionally annex these disputed territories.
US officials have been noting for the past couple of week that Israel does not have their backing to move forward immediately with annexation, even if it is presented as an unconditional concession in the “Peace to Prosperity” plan.
Even US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is now walking back his earlier remarks that Israel could begin imposing its sovereignty right away.
On Sunday, Friedman tweeted:
“As we have stated, the application of Israeli law to the territory which the Plan provides to be part of Israel is subject to the completion a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee. Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the Plan & American recognition.”