Just before Netanyahu went to Washington to meet Trump, his right wing coalition partner Naftali Bennet of the Jewish home party ( a man who aspires to become Prime Minister after Netanyahu ) was about to put forward a bill in the Knesset to officially annex Ma'ale Adumim, a settlement of some 40,000 people east of the Green Line that is considered to be a “bedroom community” built as part of “the ring around Jerusalem.” to ensure the city would always remain under Jewish sovereignty.
Netanyahu asked Bennett to hold off on this bill until his meeting with Trump on Feb 15, as he would want to coordinate this move with the Trump administration . Now that the Trump-Netanyahu meeting took place, the question is whether Israel will annex Ma'ae Adumim (which lies about half way between Jerusalem and the Jordan River,and is not far from Jericho) ?
A remember speaking with Uri, then a sixty something year old resident of Ma’ale Adumim, who fought in 1967 to conquer the neighborhood of French Hill in Jerusalem. He said, “The truth is we Israelis made a mistake. Years ago, we should have built Jewish neighborhoods linking Ma’ale Adumin to the neighborhood of French Hill [near the Hebrew university on Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem]. We didn’t because were too afraid of stepping on the American’s toes. But, we should have done it anyway. We should have established facts on the ground before the Americans noticed. It’s true the Arabs would have protested then, but they’ll protest even more now. And we’re still going to have to do it in the end. ”
How was Ma’ale Adumim’s location chosen? In 1974, the slopes from Jericho to Jerusalem were barren. Facing diplomacy with King Hussein of Jordan, the Israelis decided that if borders were to be drawn, they should not be next to Jerusalem. If Jericho was to be given up, a Jewish settlement between Jericho and East Jerusalem would keep the Jordanians away from the Holy City. Although there were doves in Israel’s Labour party that opposed plans to build Ma’ale Adumim, Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Allon and Shimon Peres supported it. There was no serious talk of a Palestinian state then, and the Jordanians were only ones in the picture.
Most Israelis consider Maale Adumin to be a part of Israel, and the Israeli consensus is that Ma'ale Adumim will remain a part of Israel under any fture peace deal. Therefore it will have to be linked to Jerusalem. Israel has plans to build new neighborhoods linking Ma'ael Adumim to Jerusalem, but the palestinians vehemently object to this as they say that this will impede their ability to have a contiguous state. (That's not quite true, but it does mean that they would mean that would be longer for them to drive from Jericho to Bethlehem). If Israel did not build neighborhoods to link Ma'ale Adumim to Jerusalem, then at the very least Israel would need to retain control of a very narrow passageway to connect Ma'ale Adumim from Jerusalem. Recently, Likud MK Ztachi Hanagbi suggested that /Maale Adumim could be linked by a bridge or a tunnel to Jerusalem, such that annexing it would not make a Palestinian state less contigous [Once Israelis and Palestinians sign a peace treaty and implement a two-state solution, “there will be tunnels or bridges that will allow this area to be practically part of Jerusalem” without hindering a territorially viable Palestinian state,” Hanegbi told the Times of Israel.]
The question remains as to what Trump's view will be regarding Ma'ale Adumim.
I will be surprised if Trump gives Israel the green light to build a new neighborhood (ie settlement) that connects Ma'ale Adumin to Jerusalem, based on what he has said to Sheldon Adelson's owned Israel Hayom newspaper in an exclusive interview in February. When asked whehter settlements are an impediment to the peace process,Trump said: "They [settlements] don't help the process. I can say that. There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we'll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace."
And during his press conference Trump with told Netanyahu directly "I'd like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit." (One can only imagine that he would have been more definitive on this point behind the scenes)
Assuming the US won't sanction Israel building a new neighborhood/s to connect Ma'ael Adumim to Jerusalem, will he give Israel the green light behind the scenes to formally annex Ma'ale Adumim (ie to apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jerusalem suburb),with the notion that a narrow corridor such as a bridge or tunnel could one day connect it to Jerusalem when there is a peace agreement.
My gut is that Trump will not want Israel to take this unilateral step of annexing Ma'ale Adumim-not in the near future at any event and not before Jared Kushner has even begun working as special advisor on the peace process. The question is just how active Trump would be in opposing a unilateral step to annex Ma'ale Adumim . There are a lot of Likud voters in Ma'ale Adumim, and the more right wing members of Netanyahu government coalition may well bring forward a bill to annex Ma'ale Adumim. If they did, Netanyahu could come under a lot of pressure to vote for the bill. Hanegbi acknowledged to the Times of Israel that he may be a minority among Likud members in opposing the unilateral annexation of Ma’ale Adumim. Netanyahu will have to convince his coalition not to put the bill forward so as not to alienate Trump.
Even if Trump's were inclined to allow Israel to formally annex Ma'ale Adumim, he will likely abandon this inclination once he gets an earful from King Abdullah of Jordan and the Palestinians about the subject
As it is, Netanyahu reportedly asked Trump in the meeting to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights and according to the Jerusalem Post Netanyahu told reporters that the US leaders' response was "not Earth shattering."
And then of course there is the fact that as per the request of the Americans, Netanyahu is his very recent promise to construct a new settlement to compensate the evacuated residents of Amona.
Member of Knesset Michael Oren has suggested that Israel may be willing to agree to limit building to the large settlement blocs in the West Bank if other moderate Arab states (ie Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates ) who are battling the common threats of Iran and radical Islamic terrorism, would be willing to support US recognition of Israeli annexation of the Golan.