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Are annexation and the deal of the century really behind us now?

July 16, 2020 at 9:42 am

Palestinians in Gaza come together to demonstrate against Israel’s planned annexation of the West Bank, 1 July 2020 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Public opinion polls in Israel and the US no longer carry good news for either Trump or Netanyahu. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, both men thought that they were in the lead, and both prepared for an additional term. Netanyahu started his fifth term, albeit burdened with the conditions of a coalition with Benny Gantz, from which he is striving to break free, and Trump was delighted by the weak and stuttering performances of his Democrat rival Joe Biden.

Now, though, the picture looks a little different, as the polls that gave Netanyahu and Likud 4 or 5 additional seats for the March 2020 election are now saying that if another election is held tomorrow he would lose those seats due to his confused performance dealing with the coronavirus. Trump fell into a similar hole even before Netanyahu, and for the first time since his previous election campaign he is no longer confident of achieving a landslide victory in November’s US presidential election.

What does this matter to the rest of us? Why are we likely to monitor events over the next four months with so much passion?

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Some observers believe that the deteriorating electoral position of the two men, and their reduced chances of remaining in office, will push them to pull back from the annexation of the occupied West Bank. Those who hold such a view say that the two have issues to deal with which distract them from thinking about opening new fronts, and which may cut their chances to stay in office.

Such observers demonstrate the seriousness of this view by pointing to the fact that the 1 July deadline for annexation came and went without Netanyahu receiving the green light from Trump; he did not dare annex the Palestinian territory unilaterally. According to this view, the annexation plan is behind us and some even say that the deal of the century is over as well.

Israel's annexation of the West Bank - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Israel’s annexation of the West Bank – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

However, other analysts have not ruled out another scenario, wherein Netanyahu pushes through the annexation to make up for his failure to contain Covid-19 in the hope, thereby, of strengthening the influence of Israel’s right wing. The votes that he lost according to the polls, did not go to the left or centre, but to other right-wing forces, more extreme than both Netanyahu and Likud.

As for Trump, there are those who say that he may become a stakeholder in the annexation; that he will be desperate and won’t hesitate to encourage Netanyahu to implement the annexation plan at a time that coincides with or just precedes the US election. This would attract support from the Zionist evangelical right wing in America, the cornerstone of his electoral base. The honeymoon between Israel’s extreme right and America’s populist right is not over yet; it is too early to announce the death of the disastrous deal.

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Such a scenario must be kept in mind, as countries and nations plan for the worst-case scenarios and hope for the best. As such, they are prepared to face the biggest dangers and challenges.

A lot of wishful thinking is going on in the hope that the collapse of the Netanyahu government and the fall of Trump are both imminent. The truth of the matter is that, while this would not be unfortunate in the case of either man, such a possibility is neither certain nor even very likely. In any case, who is to say that their replacements would be any better?

If Netanyahu leaves the government, the far right will still be around to succeed him. Joe Biden, meanwhile, will never turn the clock back to before the US Embassy was moved to Jerusalem, or to the time of the Clinton parameters, which have now been forgotten.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 15 July 2020

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