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It might not take much effort to derail Netanyahu’s annexation plan

June 9, 2020 at 9:39 am

A group of Israeli activists, holding banners, gather in front of U.S Embassy as they stage a demonstration to protest against the annexation plan of Jordan Valley, and illegal Jewish settlements in West Bank, on 15 May 2020 in Jerusalem. [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

With less than a month to go until the date set by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the annexation of large parts of the occupied Palestinian West Bank to begin, politicians and diplomats are stirring.

While Netanyahu insists on going ahead with his plan, his partner in government, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, leftist Israelis and even settlers’ leaders and right-wing officials insist that it will damage Israel. To this must be added changes in US policies and the EU’s position.

Gantz was against annexation as proposed by Netanyahu but eventually agreed to the plan as part of the deal for the power-sharing government. The plan will go before the Knesset (parliament) for assent on 1 July.

The number of Israelis opposing annexation has been increasing. A recent poll showed that 41.7 per cent of respondents now oppose the move, compared with just 31.8 per cent last month.

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Although he is not against annexation per se, Gantz is against a unilateral move because he is keen to maintain Israel’s good relationship with the international community and regional states. In his view, reported the Times of Israel, “Israel should only apply sovereignty… in coordination with the international community, apparently fearing the move could damage Jerusalem’s diplomatic ties with Jordan and other countries.” Israeli public broadcaster KAN reported Gantz as saying that his Blue and White party is not committed to annexation.

Settlers’ leaders do not want the annexation plan to go ahead because it might mean that the Palestinians eventually have an independent, albeit fragmented, state. According to Israeli journalist Roni Avraham, sources from the Foreign Ministry are saying that they have no answers about annexation for the journalists and diplomats who approach Israel’s Embassies around the world.

"I will not miss the opportunity to annex the West Bank"- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

“I will not miss the opportunity to annex the West Bank”- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

He also reported that Netanyahu has warned his colleagues that he is losing support in the media because of the lack of adequate answers about his plan. Nevertheless, during a meeting with settlers on Sunday, the Prime Minister reiterated that the annexation plan is going ahead, even though it might mean that a number of the illegal colonists are surrounded by potentially sovereign Palestinian territories. Furthermore, reported the New York Times, it might lead to Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state.

The leader of the Settlement Council in the occupied West Bank, David Alhayani, accused US President Donald Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner of “not being friends of the State of Israel” due to their support for Netanyahu’s annexation plan. Alhayani claimed that Trump and Kushner do not have Israel’s security and settlement interests in mind. “The only thing they are concerned about regarding the plan is promoting their own interests ahead of the upcoming election.”

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Meanwhile, the EU, which is Israel’s new best friend, will not support annexation. This may not be a principled opposition, but at least it is there. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said last month: “We must work to discourage any possible initiative toward annexation… Unilateral action from either side should be avoided and for sure international law should be upheld… What everybody agreed is we have to increase our efforts and our reach-out to all relevant actors in the Middle East.”

Some Arab countries have voiced their rejection of the plan and Jordan has warned that annexation could harm its peace treaty with Israel. Specialist in Israeli affairs Said Bsharat said that Gantz and Foreign Minister Avi Ashkenazi have warned of the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the loss of ties with Arab countries if the plan goes ahead.

Now, apparently, even the Americans are wary of maintaining their support for Netanyahu’s plan as they try to deal with the coronavirus crisis and the Black Lives Matter protests across the country. “Annexation is nowhere near the top of their priority list right now,” an unnamed Israeli official is reported to have said.

Overall, then, it is fair to say that conditions are not ideal for Netanyahu to proceed with his annexation plan. Now the onus is on the PA, Arab states and friends of the Palestinians to put their heads together and work for the sake of justice to undermine the plan even further. At this moment in time, it might not take much diplomatic and other resistance to derail the Israeli Prime Minister’s proposal.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.