Is West Bank annexation next on Trump’s gift list?

annexation watch

Haim Zach (GPO)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly given the go-ahead to Likud lawmakers to advance a bill that would apply Israeli law over Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley. 

Details: Likud Knesset Member Sharren Haskel announced Tuesday that she submitted a request to exempt her bill annexing the Jordan Valley from the mandatory waiting period to bring it for a vote in the Knesset plenum next week following the Trump administration’s policy reversal on settlements.

Coalition framework: In a video published on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu called on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman to join him in a unity government to “safeguard the security of Israel and annex the Jordan Valley on day one.” This is a “one-time opportunity” that should not be missed, the prime minister stressed. 

Timetable: The Netanyahu government is still an interim government, and if no government is formed in the next three weeks, the 22nd Knesset will be dispersed and new elections triggered. If a government is formed, the Trump administration has indicated that it will release its peace plan. However, if Israel is headed for another election, full or partial annexation of the West Bank could end up added to the list of gestures the president has given Netanyahu in the past year. 

Expectations: “I think the immediate response or implications that can be actually implemented is applying Israeli law over Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria,” Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy for the Yesha Council, told the Wall Street Journal. But a U.S. official cautioned Israel not to take the new policy as a “U.S. green light” for Israel to annex the West Bank or expand settlements. “It is not illegal to smoke, but that does not mean it is a good thing to do,” the official toldAxios.

Sara Haetzni-Cohen, head of My Israel, tells JI that the vast majority of the right-wing/conservative Israeli public “expects the government not to miss the opportunity” of Trump being in the White House. “Since most Israelis do care about the international community, this declaration somewhat gives Israel a stamp of approval in this field,” she explained. “The minimum is to fulfill Netanyahu’s promise in the last elections — sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.”

Evangelical base: Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Museum and an evangelical advisor to Trump, told Jewish Insider that he expects the next Trump move would be the “recognition” of Israel’s sovereignty over “Judea and Samaria.” Evans maintained that these moves are not needed for Trump to get evangelicals on board in support of his re-election. “We are [already] on board,” he said. “I can tell you my 68 million followers are very happy with the president and what he’s done for Israel. So, what he’s doing right now is just Donald Trump being Donald Trump, showing courage to do the right thing.”

Key influence: Israeli Channel 13’s Barak Ravid detailed the advance work on the decision at the State Department over the past year. According to the report, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman pushed for the policy change since the early days of the Trump administration, but was met with resistance from then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. After the legal work was done, Friedman pushed for its publication, briefing both the prime minister’s office and Gantz ahead of the announcement. 

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