Foes of Israel Misread Outlook For Annexing Judea, Samaria

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The New York Sun

Relax everyone. It turns out that Israel’s annexation of Judea and Samaria isn’t around the corner.

Even as Jerusalem edges toward concluding the two-year political crisis that deprived the country of an elected government, the entire world is aghast at the possibility of applying Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.

The Hashemite king, Abdullah II, threatens “massive conflict” with Israel. The European Union weighs sanctioning the Jewish state. Arabists predict an eruption of violence. The United Nations warns of an end to a peace process that expired a long time ago.

In America, Israelis and their supporters predict a rift between Jerusalem and a future Democratic-led administration.

All because of a promise, made by Prime Minister Netanyahu amid endless campaigning in three unresolved election cycles. Trying to lure right wing supporters, he vowed to extend Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and large Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank.

Speculations grew further when, earlier this month, the American ambassador in Jerusalem, David Friedman, seemed to greenlight the idea, saying that unless Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority starts negotiating, Israel may well go ahead with annexation plans.

Meanwhile, Israel’s political logjam finally broke. Mr. Netanyahu’s political rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue-White party, agreed to form an emergency government in which the two leaders would rotate as prime minister. Following a last minute snag on Thursday, the government now is scheduled to be sworn-in Sunday.

According to the Bibi-Benny pact, as it’s known, Mr. Netanyahu could bring the question of annexation to a cabinet vote on July 1. Yet, in the coalition-forming document, the words “Judea and Samaria,” used by consecutive Israeli governments, are nowhere to be found.

Moreover, negotiations to include Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, heads of the rightist Yamina party, in the coalition have failed. Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud confidants told the Israeli press that it was due to “seatology, not ideology” — a hint that Yamina asked for more ministerial portfolios than warranted by its poor election showing when it came to winning seats in the Knesset.

Yamina, though, is widely supported by West Bank settlers, and its voice will now be absent in the new government.

Furthermore, conversations with current and former Israeli officials indicate that much of the country’s permanent bureaucracy — especially in the security establishment — opposes a unilateral move to apply the law to disputed areas.

Their warnings are familiar: growing but still nascent relations with Gulf Arab countries would be significantly harmed. Jordan is an important ally and its population would become agitated, threatening Hashemite rule. Meantime, as the PLO’s Mr. Abbas fades away, Palestinian Arab extremists could gain the upper hand in the succession battle.

Israeli supporters of annexation have their arguments, too: They’ve heard all the latest warnings before. A global wave of anti-Israel violence was widely predicted when America decided to move its embassy to Jerusalem and, later, to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. It never materialized.

Moreover, annexation supporters say, there never has been a better time to annex, as plenty of time remains before the November election to establish facts on the ground with support from a friendly Washington administration is ideal.

Would such support materialize? Making an extraordinary one-day visit to Israel Wednesday, Secretary of State Pompeo addressed the annexation idea. “This is an Israeli decision,” he told the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom. He added, though, that such a decision must be made “in line with the vision for peace,” as delineated in Mr. Trump’s Mideast plan.

Further, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told Israeli reporters Friday that Israeli sovereignty to disputed areas “should be part of the peace process, part of discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” This contradicted the more hawkish interpretations of what was said by Mr. Friedman.

Mr. Abbas has for years declined to negotiate. He discloses no intention of ever doing so, much less prior to the November election, so Ms. Ortagus’s message is clear: Washington won’t support immediate annexation. Without it, Mr. Netanyahu will be hard-pressed to annex this summer.

Never mind. Preemptive condemnation pours in. The world’s Israel-obsessives have always been more excited over pending “outrageous“ measures than actual ones.

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Twitter: @bennyavni

The New York Sun

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