Hold your wild West Bank horses: 5 things to know for June 3
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Hold your wild West Bank horses: 5 things to know for June 3

With more than enough on its plate, the US puts a yellow light in front of Israel’s annexation plans; which may be godsend for Netanyahu

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump's Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

1. Ixnay on the annexation? As Israel closes in on its July 1 annexation target date, the White House appears to be getting cold feet on welcoming the idea, maybe because it has quite a few other issues on its plate at the moment.

  • A well-placed source tells The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren that the US administration is “highly unlikely” to approve such a unilateral Israeli move by the date that had been set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • The source tells Ahren that the US-Israeli mapping committee still has weeks, if not months, of work left and one of its key members — as well as the plan’s architect Jared Kushner — still needs to make a trip to Israel in order for progress to take place.
  • A Haaretz cartoon explains the situation better than any words. It shows Donald and Melania Trump looking out from their windows at the chaos in the American streets only to be disturbed by an aide who says, “They’re asking about annexation,” as if it’s anywhere near the top of the list of the White House’s priorities now.
  • This might at least be good news for Israel’s diplomats, who tell the Netanyahu mouthpiece Israel Hayom that they’ve been left completely in the dark regarding the premier’s annexation plans. “We are asked all the time about the issue and we don’t know how to respond,” the paper quotes multiple ambassadors in Europe, apparently speaking in unison.
  • But Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes that the fog coming from Balfour Street is because Netanyahu isn’t really interested in moving forward with annexation. “Netanyahu will annex parts of the West Bank only if he is convinced that it furthers his longtime plan of pushing the Palestinian issue off the global agenda and achieving an unofficial normalization and an anti-Iran alliance between Israel and the main Arab powers. He is not convinced that is the case and is therefore not rushing to make annexation plans. All that he has done so far is make election promises and then promise to keep them. All his options are open.”

2. Sad settlers: Pfeffer argues that while Netanyahu and settler leaders may be political allies, there remain considerable gaps between them, as demonstrated by the latest declines in the relationship.

  • “The settlers see the Palestinians west of the Jordan as the main rival for the land and the central obstacle which must be overcome at all costs,” he argues. “Netanyahu refuses to regard the Palestinians as a rival nation. From his perspective, they are a tiny inconsequential part of the Arab collective. He does not see the Israel-Palestine conflict as a separate event, but just a sideshow in a much wider campaign being waged by Arab nationalism or radical Islam, against Israel, which serves as an advance outpost for the Western world.”
  • “Ultimately, the difference between Netanyahu and the settlers’ aims are that his is a personal-political project dedicated to perpetuating his hold on power. The settler project is intended to be around long after Netanyahu is gone,” he adds.
  • The divide was on full display yesterday when settler leaders met with Netanyahu for what they later told ToI was “not a positive” meeting focusing on the Trump plan.
  • One West Bank mayor at the meeting tells Channel 13 that the Americans have toughened their stance on annexation and that “their position on the matter is not the same as it was five months ago” when Trump unveiled the plan. Moreover, he says he left the meeting under the impression that both Israel and the US had moved further from annexation.
  • The Kan public broadcaster quotes another settler leader from the meeting who says Netanyahu told them that “in order to receive annexation, we’ll have to give something in return.”
  • In response, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan tells Channel 12 that he’s prepared to give up on American backing for annexation if that means accepting the idea of a Palestinian state.
  • Dismissing claims that Dagan and the Yesha settlement umbrella council represent the majority opinion among settlers, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi tells Kan that he represents a silent majority who supports the Trump plan, brandishing the grumbling settler leaders who met with Netanyahu as “a handful of screamers.”
  • Haaretz’s Hagar Shezaf reports that Netanyahu had tried to placate those “screamers” by assuring them that he would not make mention of Palestinian statehood in the annexation proposal he’d bring before the government, but rather suffice with declaring his support for the Trump  plan in an accompanying Knesset speech.

3. There’s a word for that: Regardless of whether or not a wrench has been thrown at Netanyahu’s annexation timetable, both the US and Israel still appear willing to discuss how the plan will play out.

  • In fact, both Israeli and American officials tell the Jerusalem Post that Israel will not apply its sovereignty to Palestinian towns within areas that it plans to annex and that consequently, Palestinians, primarily those in the Jordan Valley, will not be granted Israeli citizenship. (This is what Netanyahu himself said in an interview last week.)
  • The report evokes immediate responses that characterize such a situation as “apartheid.” Former IDF foreign media spokesman Peter Lerner writes, “If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.” To which Yaakov Katz adds, “This from a man who dedicated 25 years of his life to explaining to the world why a situation like this will not happen. The apartheid argument is going to come hard and fast based on Israel’s current annexation plan.”
  • Meanwhile, Israel Hayom leads its broadsheet with a report on the IDF’s “fateful” meeting today to discuss the military’s preparedness for the annexation scenario that they haven’t been fully briefed on.
  • Channel 13’s Or Heller says the IDF is operating under “the fog of war” because of the lack of communication it is receiving from Netanyahu’s office.
  • Haaretz’s Pfeffer writes, “the IDF and Shin Bet are beginning today a ‘war game’ to simulate the various annexation scenarios. Their biggest unknown? Netanyahu’s intentions.”
  • Writing for the Brookings Institute, Bruce Reidel says a response to the annexation efforts “may well prove to be the most consequential decision of [Jordan King Abdullah’s] 22 years on the throne” and adds that if pushed into a corner, the Hashemite monarch will sever the peace deal with Israel. “It will be a tragedy if annexation undoes one of only two peace treaties between Israel and its neighbors. That will indeed be a deal for the century—a remarkably bad one.”

4. Palestinian economy: Also gaining some attention in the Hebrew media is the ever-deteriorating Palestinian economy, which is expected to take an even greater hit if annexation is realized.

  • Zman Yisrael’s Tani Goldstein speaks to Hebron activist Issa Amro, who says that while the Palestinian economy has reopened, the stores are largely empty as people don’t have enough money to spend and instead are “living on pita and vegetables.”
  • But Amro claims that the economic situation began spiraling even before the pandemic when Trump introduced his peace plan and the sides began speaking about annexation. “The engine that lets money flow money from abroad was foreign investment from America, Europe and the Gulf states. There is no local capital here, so all factories and businesses depend on this foreign investment. But in the last year, since they started throwing the word ‘annexation’ into the air, all foreign investment has stopped.”
  • Apparently recognizing the reeling economic situation, Kan reports that Israel has ceased deducting funds from the tax revenues it collects, in accordance with the amount that the PA pays to Palestinians security prisoners and their families, despite a 2018 Knesset law requiring it to do so.
  • The report infuriates Likud MK Avi Dichter, who re-posts an odd video of himself pretending to be a Palestinian negotiating  — in broken Arabic — for more money from PA President Mahmoud Abbas in exchange for the attacks he carries out against Israelis. “The law is not a recommendation,” he insists.
  • Meanwhile, ToI’s Aaron Boxerman reports that the High Court of Justice unanimously rejected a petition by civil rights groups to compel the government to compensate West Bank Palestinians employed in Israel who were furloughed during the coronavirus pandemic, in a ruling that is expected to further complicate the economic plight of many beyond the Green Line.
  • And, going back to the headline of today’s column: If you haven’t read Neri Zilber’s piece in the Daily Beast about how the theft of an Israeli mobster’s stallion by Palestinians in the West Bank relates to the deteriorating Israeli-PA security cooperation and West Bank annexation, it’s worth the read.

5. Black lives matter: Much attention in Israeli media is still being given to the ongoing race crisis playing out in the US as a result of George Floyd’s killing.

  • The story leads Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page, though its story focuses more on the property destruction caused by some of the protesters than the concerns of the protesters themselves. A picture of a broken shop window with a looter running through is pasted on most of the broadsheet.
  • The protests made their way to Israel as well and Sam Sokol covered one such demonstration of several hundred people in Tel Aviv for the JTA. “’I want you to pay attention to how f****ing long this list of names is that we are about to read,’ organizer Gavriel Chichester, an African American Jewish man originally from Washington, DC, told the demonstrators through a megaphone. “Imagine moving across the world, making aliyah to Israel and being worried halfway across the world if your little black brothers are gonna die at home and you can’t go f***ing see them.”
  • “‘We see this daily in Israel. We couldn’t sleep when we saw this police racism. It’s here and in the US. Yesterday it happened in the United States and tomorrow it’ll be here in Israel,'” Sokol quotes Ethiopian-Israeli protester Masagnu Amsalo as having said.
  • In Haaretz, human rights attorney Alon Sapir explains how while the deaths of George Floyd and East Jerusalem Palestinian Iyad Halak at the hands of police officers may seem similar, there is much that separates them.
  • “The protests gathering steam in the United States, with the participation of the black community, could not be carried out by the main victims of Israel’s institutionalized racism, at least not without being suppressed with murderous violence,” Sapir writes. “Black Americans are citizens of the country that discriminates against them, with rights and protections granted by the American Constitution and judicial system, including the basic right to assemble and protest. American blacks have the right to vote. None of this is possible or relevant for Palestinians, among them Iyad Hallaq’s friends and relatives.”
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