Netanyahu has officially said it will continue to deal with the annexation plan “in the next few days”, but observers and analysts say there are reasons to believe that the stalemate could last for weeks, or that the annexation will be temporarily shelved.
The annexation plan was contained in the government contract agreed between the two main parties supporting the coalition: Netanyahu’s Likud, which according to the agreement will remain prime minister until the end of 2021, and the Blue and White, led centrist party by former army chief Benny Gantz. The government’s plan has never been released but from the information collected by journalists it looks very much like the compromise proposed a few months ago by the US administration of Donald Trump, totally biased in favor of the Israelis.
Trump’s proposal accepted many requests that the Israeli religious and nationalist right, convinced that the West Bank belongs to the Jewish people, had been advancing for some time. In the model imagined by the US administration, Israel would annex to its territory all the colonies illegally built in the so-called Area C, that is, the areas of the West Bank that the Oslo agreements assigned to a future Palestinian state, but whose civil and military management remained in the hands of Israel. Together with the colonies, the Jordan Valley would also be annexed to Israeli territory, a large fertile area already militarily controlled by the Israeli army that Netanyahu had promised to annex a year ago.
– Also read: Israel’s plan to annex the colonies
At first glance, the conditions of this period seemed perfect for Netanyahu: the world is distracted by a pandemic, the United States is led by Trump – Netanyahu’s main international political ally – and the Palestinian leadership has never been so fragile. In fact, several obstacles have come in the last few weeks that have evidently forced Netanyahu to postpone the annexation plans, at least for now.
The first problem is that Netanyahu took it for granted that the Trump administration would support him without asking for anything in return. In fact, US officials appear to have placed complete political agreement within the Israeli government as conditions for their support – “officials want to prevent Gantz from accusing Trump of endangering Israeli lives during the campaign for the reelection », writes the New York Times – and a form of compensation to the Palestinians, on which no agreement was found.
Netanyahu also believed that the government contract would bind Gantz to support any annexation plan: in fact the agreement stipulated that any plan would be launched no earlier than July, and in recent days Gantz has used this formula to postpone the matter, explaining that “anything other than the battle against coronavirus will have to wait.” Gantz has not suddenly changed his mind: he has more likely taken a look at the polls, according to which more than two thirds of Israelis are against a unilateral annexation plan.
For days, several commentators and analysts have reiterated that the unilateral annexation of colonies in the West Bank would have enormous consequences especially in terms of security, both internal and external.
The annexation would almost certainly be followed by major popular revolts in the Arab cities of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Gershon Baskin, a well-known Israeli-American pacifist activist, wrote on the Jerusalem Post that the size of the protests will be comparable to the Second Intifada, the second Palestinian popular uprising that between 2000 and 2005 caused the death of thousands of people amid terrorist attacks by the Palestinians and violent retaliation by the Israeli army.
A few weeks ago three former Israeli soldiers wrote an article in the magazine Foreign Policy to argue that annexation would also be a means of disaster for Israel’s laboriously built relations with neighboring Arab majority countries, Egypt and Jordan. Both would be forced to take a stand against the annexation and to suspend collaboration with Israeli intelligence agencies, which in recent years has allowed Israel to create a kind of safety belt around its territory.
Major world political leaders have long made it clear that they will not defend Israel in the event of a unilateral annexation. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also reiterated yesterday, who in an opinion article written in Hebrew in one of the most widely read newspapers in the country, Yedioth Ahronoth, anticipated that the UK will not recognize any changes to its current borders.
היום בידיעות אחרונות: ראש ממשלת בריטניה בוריס ג’ונסון במאמר בלעדי – מדוע אני מתנגד לסיפוח https://t.co/klsfGq pic.twitter.com/qA7fGVlv6I
– ידיעות אחרונות (@YediotAhronot) July 1, 2020
It is unclear what could happen in the coming days, as no decision seems imminent. Yesterday an Israeli intelligence official told army radio that the government has not yet met to formally discuss the annexation, while one of the opposition leaders in Parliament, Avigdor Lieberman, claims that none of the main leaders of the army and intelligence has been involved in the conversations of the past few days.
Netanyahu is well aware that the window to start the annexation could close shortly: “he perfectly realizes that the chances of Trump being re-elected in November are waning,” he wrote on Haaretz Anshel Pfeffer, correspondent for theEconomist from Jerusalem and unofficial biographer of Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is so aware that Trump could lose the presidential election that according to Pfeffer he has suspended the annexation plans in order not to deteriorate relations with Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, who has explicitly opposed the annexation. “Postponing the annexation would allow Netanyahu to start off on the right foot with Biden,” writes Pfeffer: “if the distance in the polls between the two continues to increase, the prospect of an annexation will become increasingly remote.”