Settler leader: It will be a gift to Trump if Netanyahu annexes alone


Staff member
Settler leader: It will be a gift to Trump if Netanyahu annexes alone
‘Israel’s annexation window will soon close.’
JUNE 30, 2020

Israel stands to lose its window of opportunity to annex the West Bank settlements if it does not act in the coming weeks, Yesha Council head David Elhayani said Tuesday. He urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold a cabinet vote on a sovereignty plan already this coming Sunday. “For God’s sake, what is Netanyahu waiting for?” Elhayani asked in frustration. He spoke with The Jerusalem Post just one day prior to July 1, the earliest date by which Netanyahu under the terms of his coalition agreement with Blue and White can execute an annexation plan.

Israel has never actually promised to do so on that date, but since it is the only date that has been provided, global expectation has reached a fevered pitch as the hours tick by to a kind of annexation D-Day. Netanyahu wants to operate within the contours of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which allows him with US approval to annex up to 30% of the West Bank where all the settlements are located. With one day left to go, the White House had yet to give Israel a green light, and expectations were low any substantive action would occur on Wednesday.

Settler leaders such as Elhayani want to separate the Trump peace plan from an Israeli sovereignty plan. Netanyahu promised his voters almost a year ago he would execute a sovereignty plan as soon as he formed a new government. “It’s been several months, and so far, nothing has happened,” Elhayani said. Elhayani, who also serves as the Jordan Valley Regional Council head, said he believes there is only, at most, a few more weeks before the opportunity for Israeli sovereignty is lost altogether. As he spoke, he sat behind his desk in his Jordan Valley office and used his hands to pantomime a snowball, which he said represented a combination of international opposition to the plan and the dynamics of the US election cycle.

“Now, the snowball is very small. But with each day, it will grow bigger and bigger,” Elhayani said. At a certain point, that snowball of factors will be too formidable to ignore, he said. “Netanyahu will do Trump a favor if he moves forward with sovereignty without waiting for US permission,” Elhayani said. Such action would make Trump look good with his Evangelical voters and would simultaneously allow him to disavow any responsibility should there be a negative backlash among Arab nations or in the Middle East in general, he said. Netanyahu should take a page from Trump’s playbook, Elhayani said. He cited how Trump ignored massive objections to the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because he knew it was the right thing to do. Netanyahu has to do the same thing here, Elhayani said. But he is among those who believe that just like with the embassy move, the reaction would be minimal. Among the dangers he dismissed was the possibility that Jordan would annual its 1994 peace deal with Israel.

Such an event is unlikely, Elhayani said, because Jordan relies too heavily on Israel for security. And even if Jordan were to take that step, the option for sovereignty would be worth it, he said. Elhayani’s office is so close to Jordan that he can see the country’s red hills from his window. The blunt-speaking politician who stands easily on his principles said Netanyahu should not fear pushing back against the US when it comes to sovereignty. One could consider that once the US had recognized the legality of West Bank settlements last November, it had given Israel the green light to annex those Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, Elhayani said. “I know of no other way to speak of their legality than to apply Israeli law to them,” he said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly has said the timing and location for the application of sovereignty is an Israeli decision, Elhayani said. Netanyahu has already run two election campaigns based on sovereignty, and it has paid off for him in results, he added. Elhayani pointed to a recent poll that showed Netanyahu’s sovereignty pledge had garnered him 10 out of his 36 mandates. Should he fail to keep his word, he would lose those mandates to other parties, such as Yamina or Derech Eretz, he said. In the beginning, Netanyahu did not link sovereignty to US approval, Elhayani said. In September, Netanyahu promised Jordan Valley sovereignty immediately upon formation of a new government, he said.

At the time, Netanyahu would have already known about the Trump plan, but he made the pledge anyway, Elhayani said. Linking US approval to sovereignty now is a form of backtracking on that pledge, he added. “I have to ask, has he played us? Did he use the Jordan Valley for his own electoral purposes?” pondered Elhayani, who actively campaigned for Netanyahu after his dramatic announcement. “We are calling on Netanyahu to keep his promise. Leaders make good on their promises. It’s enough with the excuses.” “Netanyahu has wide Knesset support, even from the opposition, so why the hesitation, I don’t understand it,” he said. “I expect Netanyahu to bring sovereignty to a vote in the government already this Sunday, otherwise it is a historic opportunity that will be missed,” Elhayani said.

As the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, Elhayani has been on the ground floor of the annexation process from the start. When talk first surfaced about a real annexation possibility, it was a Jordan Valley-first plan. The issue began in earnest in June 2019 when Netanyahu visited the area together with former US national security adviser John Bolton, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Elhayani recalled. “Ron whispered to me, ‘David you should know you can thank the prime minister; he has watched over the Jordan Valley,” he said.

So it was clear that something was happening behind the scenes, Elhayani said. In September, there was an announcement of the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea sovereignty plan, with a pledge to annex all the settlements later. That was followed by a push in January for an application of sovereignty over all the settlements. Netanyahu then held back first for the unveiling of the Trump plan, a week later at the end of January. Then Netanyahu held off again so that he could have US support following completion of the work of a joint US-Israeli mapping committee tasked with setting the contours of annexation. Elhayani was one of four settler leaders who was in Washington for the unveiling of the plan. He is among those who opposed the plan. At issue for him is that he feels it is a blueprint for the creation of a Palestinian state. He also fears the plan would allow for a de facto settlement freeze and would lead to the destruction of at least 15 settlements. Elhayani has therefore led a campaign to pressure Netanyahu to apply sovereignty to all the West Bank settlements outside the contours of the Trump peace plan.

The time is ripe for such an act now, when the international community is distracted by COVID-19 and the US elections are not so far in advance, Elhyahi said. While US approval of sovereignty may help Trump now with the Evangelical voters, he may soon focus more on the fear of any negative impact of any backlash from the plan and pressure Israel to defer sovereignty until after the elections, Elhayani said. There is of course the obvious, that if Trump loses, his opponent, presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, would oppose any Israeli sovereignty plan, Elhayani said. But Elhayani is also concerned that if Trump wins, his primary concern will be the successful execution of the “Deal of the Century” so that he can win a Nobel Peace Prize. In his second term, Trump will not be obligated to anyone and is likely to bring his full weight to pressure Israel into problematic concessions with regard to the plan, he said. “We have to apply sovereignty now. We can’t afford to wait even one day,” Elhayani said.