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Trump is just what Netanyahu needs to annex the West Bank

His ideological proximity to the new U.S. president will allow Netanyahu to advance plans for the de facto annexation of the West Bank. Now all he needs is Trump’s approval.

By Menachem Klein

President Donald Trump. (Jette Carr/Department of Homeland Security)

President Donald Trump. (Jette Carr/Department of Homeland Security)

A slip of the tongue from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month is worthy of attention. In an unprepared response to a Likud Knesset member, Netanyahu said: “What I’m willing to give to the Palestinians is not exactly a state with full authority, but rather a state-minus, which is why the Palestinians don’t agree [to it].”

This almost never happens to Netanyahu. He is calculated, in contrast to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman who once threatened to execute Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and destroy his movement. In his public appearances, Netanyahu’s statements are carefully worded. His mind operates mechanically, and it is for this reason that a slip of the tongue warrants attention. He has given away more than he intended to.

Netanyahu’s words need to be tied back his stance during the negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as part of the 2013-4 peace talks initiated by then-Secretary of State John Kerry. Netanyahu’s position was that even following an agreement, Israel would retain security control over the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea over the coming decades. The best case scenario for the Palestinians would have been a severely handicapped state. What would a less ideal scenario have looked like?

In order to answer that question, we must also look at Netanyahu’s support for the Formalization Law and for settlement expansion, two processes he has pushed forward with since Donald Trump entered the White House. The significance of these processes, territorially-speaking, is the end of the “temporary” occupation and the effective annexation of around 60 percent of the West Bank.

Where Netanyahu differs from Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett is in the type and reach of annexation, not in the principle of annexation itself. Bennett wants to advance from legal to practical annexation as soon as possible. Netanyahu is more cautious. He first of all wants de facto annexation, and to do it in stages so that the world and the Palestinians can adjust to the new reality.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Knesset vote on the outpost ‘normalization law,’ December 5, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Knesset vote on the outpost ‘normalization law,’ December 5, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

This would be followed by a self-evident de jure annexation, which would seem almost natural. Palestinians would be left with what they currently have: enclaves that are barely connected to one another. Israel would govern them externally and enter them at will. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, if the Palestinians want to call this kind of autonomy a state, that’s their affair. This would also mark the definite end of the Oslo Accords; the Palestinian Authority would not be upgraded to a sovereign state on the entirety of the 1967 territories.

Netanyahu is exploiting Abbas’ adaptability and passivity. Abbas pays no attention to the voices calling on him to shutter the Palestinian Authority and hand over the keys to Israel, who would then have to bear full responsibility for its policies. He persists in security cooperation with Israel on the grounds that they share the same enemies: Hamas and the Islamic State. Abbas and the PA also have an interest in keeping the benefits that they receive as part of a ruling class sponsored by Israel.

The continued existence of a hobbled PA is also in Europe’s interests. European countries donate heavily in order to keep the PA in its current incarnation, on the premise that it is a stable factor in fighting radical Islam and prevents the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from engulfing the continent’s cities.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) arrives for a welcoming ceremony for Polish President Andrzej Duda in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, January 18, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) arrives for a welcoming ceremony for Polish President Andrzej Duda in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, January 18, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Yet Netanyahu is using Trump even more than he is using Abbas, hence the importance of their upcoming meeting in D.C. Trump’s position on Israel-Palestine remains unclear, and his limited attention prevents him from getting into the details. He is a man of simplistic principles that can be summarized in a formula — the opposite of Barack Obama and Kerry. Trump rejected UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed the international understanding of the borders of June 4, 1967 as the future border between Israel and a sovereign Palestinian state. Trump also condemned Obama’s decision not to use the U.S.’s veto.

Trump also denounced Kerry’s final speech on the Middle East, in which he portrayed the Netanyahu government’s annexationist policy as racist. Israel believes that continuing to rule over the Palestinians when there are equal numbers in both demographic groups will allow it to remain a Jewish and democratic state. Kerry called this an illusion, saying that the result would be “separate but unequal.” He deliberately used the term for the racist regime of separation that formerly prevailed in the U.S. According to Kerry, such a regime is in opposition to America’s democratic principles, and as such, the U.S. could not support it. Trump’s executive orders and senior appointments, however, have shown that he has a different understanding of American democracy and the rights of minorities.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace, Washington, DC, December 28, 2016. (State Dept Photo)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace, Washington, DC, December 28, 2016. (State Dept Photo)

Netanyahu and Trump hold similar basic positions. Netanyahu can try to nail down Trump’s agreement to a “state-minus” policy, and present it as a security necessity that will prevent the West Bank from falling into the hands of radical Islamists. As part of such an approach, Netanyahu could also secure the president’s blessing for settlement expansion in the West Bank, especially in the Jerusalem area.

In play are two sets of Israeli building plans aimed at completely sealing off the area that separates Palestinian Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank: Givat HaMatos, which sits between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and the larger expanse between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, also known as the E1 area. The surprising hush that has fallen over the campaign for a law that would annex Ma’ale Adumim indicates that it will be on the agenda when Netanyahu and Trump sit down together.

An agreement with Trump would allow Netanyahu to tackle the expected opposition from Western European countries to the plan for a state-minus. These countries’ guiding values will be far more similar to those of the Obama administration than the Trump administration. Meanwhile, Netanyahu was encouraged by the U.K.’s decision to activate Article 50 in order to leave the European Union, and its overtures to Trump as a replacement; he hurried to meet Prime Minister Theresa May, who had herself just returned from D.C.

The Israeli government has also drawn encouragement from the various messages coming out of Europe that continued settlement-building endangers the two-state solution. That is, indeed, the aim. Up until Kerry’s speech, that had also been the automatic response of the Obama administration. From the moment Kerry declared that the settlements were creating a racist regime, Netanyahu perceived the danger of a new international agenda. Instead of the question of a Palestinian state, attention is now on the question of whether Israel is an apartheid state.

Menachem Klein is a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University. He was an advisor to the Israeli negotiating team during the 2000 peace talks, and is one of he leading members of the Geneva Initiative. His book, Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron, was selected by The New Republic as one of 2014’s “best books for understanding our complicated world.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here. Translated by Natasha Roth.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      Relevant personal story, you may believe or not: recently at a family gathering the topic of Israel came up, and there was tension in the air, as some of us were self-hating Jews and some not. A relative, a not very radical middle aged woman – and who has made aliyah – announced that Israel is doing to the Palestinians the same thing the U.S. did to the Indians, a statement which ended the mercifully brief discussion. And that’s what the article is talking about – reservations.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        ​​Well, too bad ol’ Uncle Gusty wasn’t there. He would have set her straight:

        “Well looky here, we have our foolish Jews too! How come you never say anything bad about the Indians! They massacred Judeochristians at the Little Big Horn! And they started it back in 1622 with the attack on the Virginia Colony! How come you never talk about that? But no! You think all your daaarlink little Pocohantas are all innocent! Well I have news for you! Until they sign a peace deal with us and agree to a Judeochristian state and smokum red white and blue peace pipe too we ain’t budging. Bury OUR heart at Wounded Knee, not THEIRS! Even though all we want is security! And Ma’aleh Adumim! And E1! And Ariel! And Shiloh! And the Jordan Valley! And….! Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it, you Indian lover! We are such victims! Why do you hate America?….”

        (For those who might miss the point, the above is satire.)

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          Benny is ranting and raving again and creates straw men. Or is it dragons? Which he then proceeds to slay. Makes him feel big, strong and “moral”. I would call such behavior sanctimoneous 🤣

          Reply to Comment
    2. Firentis

      I fail to see how annexing Maale Adumim, for example, is “annexation of the West Bank”. It is annexation of parts of the West Bank, which was always going to be the result of any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

      The Palestinians are not going to receive a country on the basis of the 1967 territories. Deal with it and move on. They are going to have to get practical and they are going to have to do it soon.

      The alternative that the author casually throws in of “handing over they keys to Israel” is, frankly, stupid. In doing so the Palestinians would be giving up on the hundreds of millions of dollars that they currently use to promote their agenda on the world stage. Without the PA, the Palestinians would be left with the PLO and Hamas as their representatives. The PLO is now a bunch of corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats whose only claim to fame is their ancient exploits and their ability to distribute the money that the Europeans, Americans and Japanese send to the PA. Without the PA, the PLO is an institution with no significant base of operations, no significant budget, and no serious policy direction. And then there is Hamas, which will likely emerge as the leading voice of the Palestinians. How anything good for the Palestinians comes out of all this is something I have yet to hear anyone answer. All I hear is some variation of the Leninist tactical approach of ‘the worse the better’ along with the usual revolutionary ‘something will happen because it must’.

      If the PA disbands under the currently prevailing conditions, Bibi, Trump, the Egyptians, the Saudis and the Jordanians will determine what will happen to the Palestinians. That might be what will happen anyway, but at least the PA as an operating entity with a reasonably large budget and staff can try to shape reality. Without the PA budget, the PLO is an aging political midget being thrown around by any Arab state that is willing to pay its bills that particular week.

      Or, given my politics, what I really should have said is: that is a great idea guys.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Translation:

        “The Palestinians are not going to receive a country on the basis of the 1967 territories. Simply because I said so. And I do so like to hear myself say stuff like this. But the main thing is to keep the Americans and the Europeans funding our nice little occupation, keep the whole corrupt shebang going, all the while we whine about how terrible the Europeans are to us. It’s a great gig. Just keep the money flowing and keep the keys so we don’t have to pay for the damn thing ourselves. Because then the true costs of the occupation, and what we are really doing over there in the West Bank, would become apparent and the last thing we want is an honest accounting and and true accountability. Keep the money coming in!”

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          Excuse me Benny? What money are the Europeans handing to us Jewish beggars in return for nothing? Are you sure you are not talking about the money the Europeans are handing hand over fist to your darling Palestinians?

          Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          I say so, and so do 50 years of American/European/Arab failures in trying to get Israel to withdraw to 1967 lines, combined with 50 years of their failures to prevent the establishment and expansion of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

          Sure, lets disband the PA. It will be bad for the Palestinians, but, yes, I know, the worse things get, the better it is. The Palestinians will lose most of their political power and much of their economy will be destroyed. This will be one hell of a present for Bennett and Hamas. But hey, I am sure people like you and the author who want to eliminate the PA have some grandiose plan. What? Not so much?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            See this is the kind of entitlement that is not even aware of itself. Are you really telling me you don’t get this or are you pretending you don’t get this? As the occupying power you are responsible for the welfare of the population you occupy. If the EU stopped funding the PA and the PA handed over the keys you Israelis would have to provide basic services. You would have to pay for your own occupation. As it is you have a nice gig. You have your occupation and the Europeans subsidize it. All the while you complain about their “intervention” and how mean they are to you. Like everything else about the occupation, nothing is honestly accounted for.
            Hear that Gustav? You say you want a peace deal but Firentis sure doesn’t. He wants the land. And so do you, he’s just more honest about the thievery than you are.
            Firentis, what’s your grandiose plan? Mass population transfer and ethnic cleansing? Frank apartheid? Which one?

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Ok, so, lets be honest then. If the EU stopped funding the PA, and the PA threw the keys at Israel those keys would land on the floor because no one would catch them. I find it implausible that someone with such a negative view of Israel would expect anything other than this to happen. Then things will get bad in the PA for like, actual flesh-and-blood Palestinians, which you pretend to care about, and I don’t pretend to care about. The economy will collapse, and so will public order. The West Bank will go back to what it was in 2003 where the police no longer controlled the streets and anarchy ruled with militias struggling over control over meagre economic resources and territory. Israel will respond by preventing Palestinians from working in Israel, building more walls, arresting more people and killing off the leaders of the various militias. It will also make deals with regional warlords (former PA). Humanitarian organizations will do what they can but it will be hard in an environment of anarchy.

            If this is the scenario that you want to happen, then it is certainly you, rather than me that doesn’t want a peace deal. My peace deal is simple – the Palestinians accept the principle of two states for two peoples and proceed to create a state based out of Ramallah. The state will rule over all the Palestinians in the West Bank and somewhere in the are of 90% of the territory. This will be peace.

            You prefer anarchy and violence rather than having the Palestinians accept living in peace next to a Jewish state. You are the virulent extremist here, not me.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            ​“someone with such a negative view of Israel would expect anything other than this to happen. Then things will get bad in the PA for like, actual flesh-and-blood Palestinians, which you pretend to care about, and I don’t pretend to care about”

            This is the heart of this. Ad hominem against people like me, out of your victimological fantasies, plus a frank statement of an antisocial gangster mindset. Expressed on the blogsite of an Israeli Magazine devoted unstintingly and in the most decent way to human rights for all and in a way that truly wants the best for Israel according to its guiding moral vision. I view you on the other hand as expressing the letter and spirit of a criminal enterprise masquerading as something better. I have no doubt that the Israeli powers that be possess the cynicism and ruthlessness and heartlessness to engineer any road warrior chaotic outcome they so desire to control and exploit. I have little doubt, less with each passing day, that they will treat non-Jews, Arab or African, like lab rats. As they do now. But I think your confidence, in how this will play out in the international courts of opinion and law and from an internal strategic point of view, over the long term, your confidence in the sustainability of your project, is misplaced. We shall see. We shall see if the forces of light or darkness, on both sides of the conflict, win out here. But I think I know what those forces are.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Translation: You expect that as a result of your preferred policy there will be many more Palestinians that suffer and die but you are ok with that because that is less important to you than holding out for some idealized solution that you have absolutely no realistic idea how to possibly get to. Got it. Yep, virulent extremist that cares little about the people he pretends to care about just about covers you.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Implicit in this attack on me is the admission that you are willing to kill a lot of Palestinians to give your settlers what they crave. Fanatics are like that. Possibly a lot of Palestinians are willing to die. A lot of American Revolutionary War minutemen were willing to die for freedom from the yoke of the British. A lot of Jewish Haganah and Lehi were willing to die for freedom from the yoke of the British. It is only racism that makes you differentiate the first group from the latter two. And here’s the thing: the Palestinians are fighting for their freedom. You are fighting for the luxury of real estate, white walled, red roofed, internet connected yuppie condo developments with indoor plumbing masquerading as “pioneering settlements.“ Which is why Israeli soldiers today are so battle shy and the Israeli public is so battle shy and they concoct Hannibal procedures that are, behind their rationalizations, an admission of fear. And I am not saying it is fear in the sense of cowardice. It is fear in the sense that any sensible young men are not willing to die for a cause they know is ersatz, a cause that deep in their hearts they know Breaking the Silence tells the truth about.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            Once again you make it clear that you believe that your proposed path leads to conflict and confrontation in which many Palestinians will suffer and die. Meaning, regardless of what I think, you yourself promote the spilling of blood while pretending to want peace. Not only that, but you have no pragmatic or realistic response when asked what such a round of blood-letting would achieve. This is how fanatics think.

            You are willing to fight Israel to the last Palestinian.

            Your analysis of Israeli society is built on ignorance and the reports of foreign-funded fringe leftist elements like Breaking the Silence. So, ignorance as a whole. The overwhelming opinion in Israeli society is that the Palestinians are not interested in peace with Israel and want to see Israel destroyed. That is also the prevailing opinion on the Palestinian side so Israeli society happens to be right on this point. As such, soldiers that go to the army believe they are fighting for the existence of their country.

            Hannibal procedure is to avoid having an Israeli soldier fall prisoner and then having to release terrorists for his return.

            So much fanatical ignorance in one post.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            No, you’re the one who brought up blood. You’re the one who announced that you’re willing to stop at nothing including killing Palestinians for the sake of yuppie condo developments with a nationalistic frisson of fake authenticity. “Hannibal procedure” was my shorthand for the acute and increasing sensitivity of the Israeli public to casualties. This is the behavior of a public that rightly senses its young men will die for something they don’t deep down believe in. They know Breaking the Silence is the antithesis of ignorant, that they tell the plain truth you don’t want the outside world to know. This is incredibly obvious. The denials are absurd. Nothing is more telling than the way Israelis like you clap their hands over their ears when people like Yehuda Shaul and Atalya Ben-Abba speak out. And the way you vilify them. Look, you value extreme nationalism above all. I don’t. But if this were really the “existential” struggle involving “the threat of annihilation” and other right wing claptrap then you all would behave differently. If the soldiers of Breaking the Silence truly were the “ignorant” liars about their own army that you say they are your country would openly and proudly prosecute them quite rightly for treason or something close to it. But your country does nothing of the sort because it knows they don’t lie, so it does nothing to them on the record, which would only make their point much louder, but persecutes them in underhanded ways. Your case against me does not bear scrutiny.

            Reply to Comment