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Mount Sarbata with Jordan valley below
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Editor’s Report: Will Trump Allow Israel to Annex large parts of the West Bank before the U.S. November Election?

by Rhonda Spivak, May 22,2020

The unity government agreement signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will allow Israel to initiate legislation to annex about 30%  of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, as of July 1. Under the deal Netanyahu can take the legislation to the Knesset where there will be enough votes from the right wing parties to get it passed.

As Jacob Magid wrote in the Times of Israel, "Washington has largely given its blessing to Israel’s annexation efforts." However, the US  also has asked Israel's government to negotiate with the Palestinians, which is part of the Trump plan. Daniel Pipes has  written in the New York Times, "Should Israelis charge ahead with the part [of the Trump plan] they like and ignore the rest, they invite Mr Trump's monumental  displeasure." The US has also said annexation can go ahead in the absence of a Palestinian state if Ramallah refuses to negotiate.


Still, as Magid also wrote, "Some analysts speculate that Washington may be more hesitant to allow such a far-reaching move to go forward just months before the November presidential election."


If the Trump Administration were to become hesitant about approving Israel's annexation plans, (and that is a BIG IF) what could its reasons potentially be? Below are a few key arguments that opponents of unilateral annexation make: 

Opponents claim that unilateral annexation, whether extensive or limited in scope, will trigger a chain reaction over which Israel will have no control. When the Palestinians see that Israel is unilaterally defining its borders via  annexation not negotiations, it is quite possible that the Palestinian Authority Security Forces will cease co-ordination with Israel, because in the eyes of the Palestinian public they will be viewed as "traitors" and "collaborators" of the occupation, as opposed to champions of the Palestinian national interest.  Palestinians could also start a new intifada. As of May 19, the PA's Mahmoud Abbas declared an end to security cooperation with Israel and the US, citing the imminent threat of Israeli annnexation of parts of the West Bank, but it's not clear if Abbas will follow through on his threat.
Opponents of unilateral annexation say it will mark the end of a negotiated two state solution, and the Palestinian Authority is likely to collapse because of this.  In order to stop Hamas from taking over in the West Bank, the Israel Defense Forces will be forced to take over the entire West Bank, thereby policing the 2.6 million Palestinians in it. Opponents of unilateral annexation claim that the entire standing army plus the reserves will be needed to police the West Bank with there being few troops available to prepare to deal with the real security threats posed by Hezbollah and Syria in the north, Hamas in the South  and Iran in the East.
It is to be noted that Netanyahu recently has made a decision to try to buy Palestinian silence on the annexation issue by giving a NIS 800 million loan to the Palestinian Authority, ( which is not likely to be repaid), and another NIS 500 million loan every month for the next six months. As annexation draws near, Netanyahu is greasing the cogs of the Palestinian economy, knowing that due to the coronavirus the average Palestinian is especially concerned most about their economic survival, not politics.
Netanyahu's bet is that if there is "economic peace" there won't be another intifada.
Opponents of unilateral annexation indicate that it will put Israel's peace treaty  with Jordan at risk, including security co-ordination with Jordan, and will destabilize the Jordanian regime. The Jordanian public will not tolerate continued security co-ordination with Israel especially if the PA collapses or if there is a new intifada. Unilateral annexation will thus risk the loss of the strategic depth Jordan affords Israel vis a vis Iran. Opponents of unilateral annexation emphasize that coordination with Jordan ( in terms of  deterrence, early warning, and thwarting acts of terror and state aggression from Iran ) is of paramount consideration. Jordan's King has already warned of a "massive conflict" if Israel annexes land in the West Bank.
Opponents further maintain that if the IDF is forced to re-occupy the West Bank, donor countries will abandon obligations they undertook in the wake of the Oslo Accords, such that the economic consequences to Israel of looking after the Palestinians will be staggering. Additionally, it is claimed that once the PA has collapsed and the IDF controls the West Bank, the Gaza strip will not remain quiet, and  Israel will have to contend with increased violence from Hamas directly and via the West Bank.
Opponents also point out that Israel will damage its relationship with the EU, it's biggest trading partner, which is against unilateral annexation. Even if the  Europeans don't  cancel bilateral agreements but just put them on hold in response to Israel's unilaterally annexing territory, Israel will be damaged economically. Further, opponents say unilateral annexation is also likely to damage Israel's expanded ties and working relationship with the Sunni Arab States, especially those bordering on the Persian Gulf.
Of course, proponents of unilateral annexation maintain that the claims of  the opponents of annexation are exaggerated and that their disaster scenarios outlined above will not come to pass. They point to the case of the U.S. embassy being moved to Jerusalem. Opponents of this move also claimed that there would be major uprisings and/or that the PA could collapse , and/or that Israel's peace treaty with Jordan would come unhinged if the U.S Embassy were moved from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. But none of these disaster scenarios happened.
Proponents of  unilateral annexation say that Jordan would keep its peace treaty with Israel, since it includes bilateral security cooperation and also enables Jordan to have a close relationship with the U.S. which gives Jordan  $1.3 billion a year.
Proponents of annexation also emphasize that the Jordan Valley which will be annexed has great strategic value and will need to be under Israeli control, to protect against threats emanating from the East. ( Pinchas Inbari,President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and a fellow at the Middle East Forum, in an article titled Annex the Jordan Valley in the Jerusalem Post outlines why the Jordan valley's strategic importance is indispensable to Israel.
Proponents of annexation claim that the circumstances are ripe for annexation once America under Trump agrees to this, as it appears he is set to do. Of course, if Biden were to win the November elections, he would not approve of unilateral annexation, and likely wouldn't recognize it, even if America under Trump had done so before the November elections.
In a JNF webinar on May 12, Inbari said that there are only a few Arabs that live in the Jordan valley such that by annexing it, "we [Israelis] won't burden ourselves with a  demographic problem." He also said Jordan pays lip service to the Palestinian cause and it would rather have Israel control the Jordan valley than see Palestinains control it as a Palestinian state could end up being a "Hamasastan", a neighbor which Jordan would not want to have.
David Makovsky and Dennis Ross writing in the Times of Israel oppose full annexation saying "At a minimum, we hope he [Netanyahu]  will at least recognize the difference between annexing designated bloc areas versus all the settlements, including the Jordan Valley. The former would not close the door to two states and the latter would doom Israel to becoming a bi-national state that fundamentally alters its identity." 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.