Never gonna give annexation up: 6 things to know for January 31
Israel media review

Never gonna give annexation up: 6 things to know for January 31

After rickrolling the sovereignty-devout settler crowd, Netanyahu is still trying to sell them on the idea that he won’t let them down

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks during a press conference with US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House on January 28, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks during a press conference with US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House on January 28, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

1. Sovereign succotash: With the West Bank annexation train seemingly stopped in its tracks before it could leave the station — at least for now — attention has turned to what went wrong for Netanyahu and how his gambit seemingly backfired.

  • ToI’s Raphael Ahren gives a good play-by-play, from Netanyahu’s jubilant promises on Tuesday, to what appeared to be a full about face 24 hours later.
  • A senior Israeli official selling Netanyahu’s side of the story insists that there was no misunderstanding by either the Israelis or Americans and the divergence is only a minor technical matter.
  • “But it certainly seems that the saga could have been avoided if Jerusalem and Washington had been better coordinated ahead of the plan’s rollout,” he writes. “After all, the proposal was three years in the making, and both sides knew that annexation would be a major part of it.”
  • He notes the possibility of the actual dispute being between US envoy David Friedman and White House adviser Jared Kushner (as explored here on Thursday).
  • “Jerusalem-based Friedman is probably convinced that the peace plan will have no chance of proceeding to an agreed Israeli-Palestinian accord, and may therefore be mainly interested in guaranteeing Israel gets what it was promised,” he writes.
  • “Washington-based Kushner, however, is deeply engaged with Arab leaders from across the region.”
  • “The confusing back and forth about the timing revealed unease about the issue. Under the previous administration, this may have been called daylight,” he adds.

2. Splitsville: In Haaretz, Noa Landau gives a slightly different reading, calling the “technical” explanation “torturous,” and noting that Friedman was indeed the man behind the annexation push.

  • “According to Israeli and American sources, the person urging Netanyahu to annex straight away was none other than US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman,” she writes, adding that Friedman was directly involved in the effort to use annexation to sell a plan that includes Palestinian statehood to settlers.
  • “A new talking point has now been introduced. It says that rightists should be satisfied with the “enormous achievement” of American recognition — in principle — of Israeli sovereignty over the settlements,” she notes.
  • The only problem? “The Trump administration is now pondering how to get out of the corner into which Netanyahu and Friedman has them backed. The plan does propose that all the settlements remain under Israeli control, but the administration apparently intended this to happen as part of a comprehensive agreement, or at least appear to be, in order to retain the Arab cooperation Kushner worked so hard to secure.”
  • In Yedioth, Shimon Shiffer credits Jordan’s King Abdullah with being the one to put the brakes on annexation.
  • “It would not be a wild guess to assume that Abdullah spoke to Kushner over the last day and warned him of the consequences of immediate annexation of the Jordan Valley. It’s safe to assume that the king said that if he does do that he’ll send the White House a copy of the peace agreement with Israel, stamped ‘null and void.’”

3. The hangover: In Walla, Tal Shalev writes that the whole annexation thing has become a headache for the prime minister.

  • “As big as the expectation [was] from the crazy build-up for annexation will be the size of the disappointment when it becomes clear it won’t happen.”
  • Yedioth reports that Netanyahu is now facing immense pressure from settler leaders and others on the right.
  • According to correspondent Itamar Eichner, as he boarded his plane to leave Washington and the reality was becoming clear, Netanyahu started getting nasty messages from settler leaders.
  • The paper also quotes Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked warning that without annexation, the deal is “the risk of the century.”
  • Not everybody needs convincing, though. Speaking to Army Radio, former settler leader Otniel Schneller says the settlers’ opposition to a Palestinian state is silly: “They won’t already have a state? A flag? An anthem? Parliament? Why cry out when this is in everybody’s interest.”

4. For you I make deal: Like a typical Israeli salesperson, the prime minister appears to be trying to hawk the same goods to the settlers by using the hard sell and pretending that it has Toshiba guts and is not clearly duct-taped together.

  • Channel 13’s Barak Ravid writes that Netanyahu’s people are trying to push the idea that the Americans can still be convinced and are trying to get some annexation okayed in the next few weeks.
  • “We want to pass them the map of the parts we have ready so far to move ahead on so we can see what can be done,” he quotes a senior Israeli official saying.
  • “The way to sovereignty, continue on the US path,” reads the front page headline in Israel Hayom, widely considered a Netanyahu mouthpiece.
  • “Like many others in Israel, I am also overjoyed that the concept of Peace Now has finally been replaced by the approach of ‘sovereignty now,’” writes editor Boaz Bismuth.

5. No sale: It’s worth noting that Israeli officials always use sovereignty whereas others speak of annexation, which Marcy Oster notes in JTA is also a form of selling the move to the world.

  • Using terms other than annexation “is an attempt to avoid the international perception that Israel is doing something illegal here,” says Amichai Cohen of the Israel Democracy Institute.
  • The New York Times, in an editorial savaging the plan, writes that “Throughout, the plan reflects Mr. Trump’s embrace of the wishes of Israeli nationalists and his Jewish and evangelical donors, and a disdainful attitude toward the Palestinians. Though past peace plans all accepted Israel’s need to secure its borders and prevent an armed state from arising alongside it, they sought to fashion face-saving arrangements, such as letting Israel ‘lease’ rather than annex territory.”
  • Kan’s Gal Berger writes that the Trump plan actually does not even mention the words annexation or “extending sovereignty.”
  • Where sovereignty is concerned, it only applies to Israel and not the Palestinians, he notes: “If we want to solve the conflict once and for all, this plan needs to stay on the shelf, as one plan among many.”
  • Writing for NBC News, Rebecca Shimoni Stoil says that by seemingly giving Israel the go-ahead to annex, the plan “whiffs on a historic opportunity to stanch Israel’s rightward shift and return it to moderation and restraint.”
  • “The peace deal — if it had been dangled as a goal for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians rather than presented as a fait accompli — might have pushed Netanyahu to form a national unity government with the large party on his left in order not to miss the opportunity for Israel to get the best deal it will ever see. But in allowing Israel to take unilateral steps at the onset of the deal, that incentive is off the table.”

6. One circus in the life of Naama Denisovich: The sovereignty saga is only half the story in the Israeli press, where the return of Naama Issachar is seen as a big deal as well.

  • “Naama Issachar woke up in a Russian prison and went to sleep in her own bed in Rehovot. In between was perhaps the most memorable day she will ever have,” writes a gushing Israel Hayom.
  • But others are finally able to admit that maybe the whole thing was a tad overblown.
  • In Yedioth, which had helped spark the media circus around her, critic Einav Schiff writes that the round-the-clock coverage of her return was shameful and “reminded many of the day of Gilad Shalit’s return, which of course just heightened the absurdity. It doesn’t matter how much the Russian regime screwed over a young girl because of nonsense, you can’t compare her to a soldier who was captured by Hamas.”
  • Channel 12’s Dana Weiss, on the plane with Issachar and Netanyahu, noted all the journalists there who had been trying to cover the peace deal unveiling in Washington, and complained on air from the aisle about the reporters “being kidnapped” by the prime minister, at taxpayers expense, “for his election campaign.”
  • In Walla, Amit Slonim also writes critically of the “Festissachar,” but says Weiss and her paymasters, who gladly reported on the case for months and broke into their regularly scheduled programs to cover it, are just as much to blame as the prime minister: “The scorn should be heaped upon her as well, and upon us all that allowed this to happen, and not only yesterday.”
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