Netanyahu’s West Bank Annexation Talk Was No Gaffe

With the White House firmly on his side, Bibi's biggest challenge is to restrain his appetite.

Israeli Prime Minister B. Netanyahu Credit:Ververidis Vasilis /shutterstock

Hands have been wringing over Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s revelation that Israel has been discussing its annexation of the West Bank—long a diplomatic taboo—with the Trump White House.

Trump already exploded a central rule of the long-played diplomatic game by conferring U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. If the new American standard is simply to recognize the settlement facts that Israel has created on the ground in the last half century, then Trump’s acknowledging Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank is a no-brainer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must think that he has died and gone to heaven. While U.S.-Israeli relations have long been framed by serial platitudes attesting to the most wonderful, productive, and intimate ties in history between the two countries, it is fair to say that no previous administration like the one now running the White House has so internalized the Israeli narrative on Jewish settlement in the land of Israel.

The prime minister’s recent revelation that he has raised the issue of annexation with Washington rings true. Numerous reports, including in this publication, attest to this effort. The speedy White House rebuke, its crisp denunciation of Bibi’s claim as “false,” and Jerusalem’s speedy “clarification” are important, but not because they honestly address the question of whether discussions on annexation have taken place.

The challenge Bibi faces is not so much to convince Trump and his closest advisors to adopt his wish list regarding the future of “Judea and Samaria”—a prayer already answered on Jerusalem—but rather to constrain his appetite for historic decisions that are so consequential that they will rouse even the slumbering giant in the Oval Office.

Unlike the hardliners who inhabit his coalition, Bibi cannot become intoxicated by the tempting prospect of taking too big and too public a territorial bite out of the West Bank. Over the last half-century, Israelis across the political spectrum have offered an extraordinary example of the Jewish state’s ability to successfully manage U.S. and broader international opposition to their pursuit of Greater Israel. Throughout this period, politicians left and right were guided, with prominent exceptions, by the practical utility of “deciding not to decide” the fate of the Jerusalem and the West Bank, the settlements, and the three million Palestinians under military rule. For Israel, precipitous implementation of its annexationist agenda risks mobilizing international opposition to its strategic objectives in a manner more effective than has been the case since 1967.

It looks as though this is what has happened in recent days. No doubt emboldened by the historic horizons made tantalizingly possible by Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, Bibi overreached and fell into the honey trap unwittingly set by his pals in the White House.

“I can tell you that for a while now I’ve been talking about it with the Americans,” Netanyahu revealed in a meeting of his Likud faction, noting an “historic” agreement to annex West Bank settlements. “I’m guided by two principles in this issue,” he explained. “Optimal coordination with the Americans, whose relationship with us is a strategic asset for Israel and the settlement movement; and the fact that it must be a government initiative rather than a private one because it would be a historic move.”

This context is important. It suggests that Netanyahu, by invoking his ties with the White House, was playing defense against colleagues clamoring for an explosive declaration on annexation. But by attempting to win some points—at Trump’s expense—with his erstwhile supporters, he precipitated the unusual White House reprimand.

Members of Netanyahu’s coalition have proposed quite a few annexation bills during the 20th Knesset’s term, passage of which would unleash an international firestorm. These include proposals to annex the settlements of Ma‘ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, and Gush Etzion around Jerusalem. Others want to annex the city of Ariel and the entire Jordan Valley.

Israel’s all-too-successful efforts to swallow the West Bank have been marked by a patient application of incremental decisions over half a century—marked by the administrative fixes that have flown largely under the diplomatic radar. Even as the controversy over discussion with the Americans topped the headlines, another milestone in this policy of “creeping annexation” was reached— the seemingly innocuous passage of a law placing Israeli colleges and universities in West Bank settlements (yes, there are such places) under the authority of the Council for Higher Education.

Notwithstanding the domestic political pressure in favor of annexation, Israel’s leadership can be counted upon to show greater discipline and strategic planning than the White House as Israel doggedly pursues its ever-tightening grip over the West Bank. Netanyahu will no doubt be distracted by his growing legal and political troubles, but he can be expected to champion—more effectively than impatient wannabe successors—the realization of Greater Israel and the consolidation of “one state two systems.”

Geoffrey Aronson is chairman and co-founder of The Mortons Group and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute.

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30 Responses to Netanyahu’s West Bank Annexation Talk Was No Gaffe

  1. Rose Dolan says:

    I pray to god to God that Isreals will propel no matter what people say I’ll be praying for Isreal. Praise God for his obedience and Ideas that are God’s first chosen people will stand and not be moved..

  2. EliteComminc. says:

    If one is familiar with scripture and one can be objective,

    This is really fascinating stuff.

  3. Whine Merchant says:

    Let’s see if Bibi’s sock puppets come out to quote purported “facts” that justify anything that the rest of the world sees as brutal occupation and attempts to annex lebensraum for the 20% of the population who moved from what was then the USSR to colonization settlements.

    No wonder Israel and Putin ares so buddy-buddy.

    Make Armenia Great Again!

  4. Michael Kenny says:

    It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good! The more Israel annexes, the more it makes itself hated, which rebounds, however irrationally, onto “the Jews” in general and worldwide. The more that happens, the more Israel needs the US to prop it up. That means maintaining US credibility as Israel’s defender. Europe lies astride the most direct route from the US to Israel, serving as a very useful fuel stop and forward base. NATO provides a legal pretext for maintaining US forces and military supplies close to Israel. US credibility as Israel’s defender thus rests on US credibility as Europe’s defender. Putin has challenged US credibility in Europe and the Middle East and been let get away with it. From Israel’s point of view, therefore, Putin has to be got rid of, not just out of Syria but out of Ukraine as well, and ideally, out of power altogether.

  5. Crprod says:

    If Bibi ends up in the slammer, who will direct Trump’s Middle East policy?

  6. TTT says:

    The largest settlement blocs, like Ma’ale Adumim and Modi’in Illit, were always understood to have been destined for Israel under the terms of any peace deal. President-For-Life Abbas said just a few months ago that all of Israel is illegitimate, which might explain why he has continued the long Palestinian tradition (the ONLY long Palestinian tradition) of turning down peace deals. So Israel is just taking what they were going to get anyway. They can build the border wall to surround the largest settlements, and walk away from the rest.

    Even IF they did annex Area C (where the settlements are), they would never take the whole West Bank. Areas A and B are full of Palestinians and would raise demographic problems if absorbed.

    None of this annexation is what I want to happen, but eventually the Israelis are going to learn to take no for an answer, since it’s the only thing the Palestinians ever say.

  7. Mark Thomason says:

    “Israeli colleges and universities in West Bank settlements (yes, there are such places)”

    When visiting university offices for my kids’ enrollment, I saw that Michigan State University displays pamphlets for summer programs to send its students specifically to those settlement universities.

    Not only do they exist, promoting them is deeply embedded in American university life.

  8. PAX says:

    “the realization of Greater Israel and the consolidation of one state two systems.” That bifurcated system does not work well. South Africa is a good example. I recall the delirious happiness after Israel’s victory in its preemptive war of 1967. Many mused – will the Arabs accept this situation? No! In 1973 the Egyptian military roared back across the Suez in a stunning blitzkrieg that only the U.S.’s massive military aid stopped. Trump, Netanyahu, and AIPAC may well cede these lands to Isreal now. This will be disputed in the future as it was in Biblical times. Personally – I do not wish to see folks die and be subjugated because one group believes their God is a real estate agent and they are his only clients. Slowly the silent majority is waking up to this incredible theocratic driver of our foreign policy and what is its real cost for Americans. Our enthusiasm for dying, being maimed, and expending vast resources to maintain these religious concepts is fading fast. There are also other players emerging. We did not get our way in Syria. I hope we stick with the two-state solution and encourage less, not more settlements. I pray that we recognize the equality of all human beings to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

  9. Donald says:

    TTT voices what Israel and its defenders always say, that it was understood by them that they could take the largest settlement blocs. Palestinians never understood this. They understood that they had conceded 78 percent of their homeland and had international law on their side regarding the rest.

    Frankly, I think they should have been asking for one man one vote all along. There was never any moral reason to allow Israel to expel them from their homeland.

  10. My Little Dream says:

    Has he been indicted yet? Everyone seems to know that he’s corrupt and “truth challenged”, but alone among the civilized nations America keeps treating him like a latter-day Churchill, because, well, because neocons.

    It would be nice if, at the end of his next “why don’t you and Iran fight while we sit on our hands” harangue to a joint session of Congress, he were led away in chains.

  11. DrivingBy says:

    In the 1930s, the Arabs volunteered with the Reich, serving in the Werhmacht and also with Einsatzgruppen, for the express purpose of helping to kill Jews in Europe, Asia, and eventually the the entire world.
    In 1948, after the few escapees had founded Israel, the same Arabs attacked the tiny country.
    In 1967, they tried again.
    In 1973, they figured they’d finally cracked the code and readied a massive attack. Once again, they lost.
    In between each of these full scale wars they conducted a constant stream of irregular attacks using everything from special ops soldiers to their citizens revved into a rage, as they’ve been since the 7th century.

    The Arabian peninsula was once home to a multicultural, diverse group of many religions, from little cults to the monotheistic yet tolerant Zoroastrians. All of these would be crushed by a the law of the sword, by a totalitarian system designed to created expendable fighters and to amass rape-slaves to be used as fighter-factories. From Medina to Mecca to Kyber and every other city, the choice was to die or to submit to a religion whose name means “Submission” (not peace, Mr Bush).

    If Israel is restored to its ancient, Biblical borders it will be an indication that God is speaking, and whatever nation or individual assists will gain God’s favor.

    The Arabs have several million square miles and Earth’s best, near-surface high grade oil reserves. They have so much oil that they simply burn off the natural gas, a massive waste that creates the brightest lights on Earth. The Arabs have far less claim to Israel than their former allies had to the Sudetenland, and it’s people of a similar outlook who support their goals.

  12. JEinCA says:

    What to make of a people who want the world to acknowledge them as the ONLY eternal victim who then turn around and use the sympathy of Western powers and peoples to steal the land of Palestine, evict scores of Palestians from their homes at gunpoint (killing, raping and looting along the way)? What to make of a people like that? What to make of Americans who in grave error believe God grants that Tribe of people license to do such things? Then I remember many of these Americans are descendants of folks who did such things to the Original Americans and then rounded them up onto reservations which is not much different from what’s been done to Palestinians in the West Bank. One could even say that the Gaza Strip is like one giant Indian Reservation. It makes me wonder if many of these Americans (who call themselves Christians) realize that many Palestinians are Christians and the Holiest Sites in Christianity are in Palestine? Indeed it could be argued that Palestinian Christians are direct descendants of the First Christians with bloodlines that go back to the True Israelites of Ancient Times. When do the American Evangelicals who have unwavering support for the modern secular state of Israel ask themselves these questions?

  13. cka2nd says:

    “For Israel, precipitous implementation of its annexationist agenda risks mobilizing international opposition to its strategic objectives in a manner more effective than has been the case since 1967.”

    Since the Suez Crisis of 1956.

    TTT says: “Even IF they did annex Area C (where the settlements are), they would never take the whole West Bank. Areas A and B are full of Palestinians and would raise demographic problems if absorbed.”

    They would if the Israeli hardliners who support expulsion of the Palestinians get their way. Considering that they’ve slowing been getting everything else their way, who’s to say the Palestinians won’t suffer another Nakba?

    TTT says: “the long Palestinian tradition (the ONLY long Palestinian tradition) of turning down peace deals….eventually the Israelis are going to learn to take no for an answer, since it’s the only thing the Palestinians ever say.”

    So what, the Oslo Accords are chopped liver? And they’ve worked out so well for the Palestinians?

  14. Former GOP voter says:

    Israel is a menace, in particular Likud and the other right wing parties that make up theor government. Jews are certainly not a menace. I respect what they have endured, what they have contributed to world culture and American culture in particular. But let’s call it what it is, Israel is an apartheid state that will draw the United States into another war.

    As a side note, it’s fascinating to see well educated, well meaning people base their foreign policy opinions on bible prophecy. Its absolutely absurd.

  15. Managing Director says:

    DrivingBy
    I was surprised the old illogical Zionist rationale of “who gives back conquered lands?” did not surface in your blog? The allies in WW2 for starters. 1967 was a preemptive strike by Israel. It was well planned attacked and done with U.S. compliance. Given the Israeli propensity to hold and subjugate conquered lands, the Egyptians took matters into their own hands and breached strong Israeli defenses (Bar-Lev Line) to surge into the Sinai to recapture their own territories captured by Israel in 1967. (Nixon saved them with a massive arms lift.) Surely Israel understands this logic? Not all Arabs fought on the Nazi side in WW2.A few do not make all. How many fought for the Allies?
    Should we invade and hate Canada because they have resources we do not have? Or grab Australia for its oil, coal, iron, uranium, etc. How can you rationalize – other than on theocratic grounds – the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine? It is discriminatory and against the concept that we are all equal under the (our) law.

  16. Argon says:

    Rose Dolan: “I pray to god to God that Isreals will propel no matter what people say I’ll be praying for Isreal. Praise God for his obedience and Ideas that are God’s first chosen people will stand and not be moved.”

    Let’s call this Armageddon preoccupation with Israel what it really is: a looney cultish belief.

    And the nation is spelled “Israel”. The “-el” means ‘God’. Easy to remember once you learn that.

  17. EliteCommInc. says:

    ” Praise God for his obedience and Ideas that are God’s first chosen people will stand and not be moved.”

    I have commented on this several times and have deleted it more than once. I hesitate because I guess somewhere in my being there is a fear of God. I will do my best to tread lightly because God’s ways our not our ways.

    Nothing, has so complicated our understanding of Israel more than relying on OT descriptions, prophecy and NT prophecies regarding Israel.

    In my view modern day Israel was established by UN mandate. A mandate that was passed to them by the British which was the recognized management authority of Palestine. Their intent from the Balfour Letter/Agreement/Declaration to UN Res. 181 was to establish a state for Israel and another for the rest of Palestine.

    It is that decision that christian acknowledge God’s restoration of Israel. If in fact, God used the UN to establish the modern state of Israel, then one must also acknowledge that that includes recognizing the UN as god’s authority to do and that applies to the UN expectations and regulations (laws).

    So the occupation by Israel violates UN mandates and is in effect a violation against the will of God.

    Every arrest outside of Israeli borders is a UN violation and disobedience to God.

    Every murder of a child, a woman or man is violation of UN mandates, and as such a violation against God.

    Every act that violates the due process and protection of any individual rights is a violation against God as well as the UN>

    The attempt to annex any portion of Palestine, not apart from approved territorial jurisdictions of the UN is a violation of Hod’s will.

    The UN established Israel, supports the existence of Israel, and the defense of Israel. Their expectations that Israel abide by the rules is not an unreasonable Godly expectation.

    Now when faced with those expectations it is not uncommon for a Jew or Israeli to claim that the UN did not create the conditions for for Israel to exist as a modern state. That the UN has no jurisdiction over Palestine. They attempt to pivot away from Res 181 to the Balfour Letter. But the Balfour is not a legal document establishing anything. It is a frame l for the intentions of Great Britain to permit Jews into Palestine and ensuring the rights of all parties living the region, including religious rights.

    Israel by rejecting the UN authority and Res 181, essentially makes Palestine a territory in which no authority exists and they can do as they wish. If that is the case trhen all other parties can do as they wish and a fist fight for whatever one wants is in play. But thise notion is contrary to the record as is indicated by Jewish acts of terror against the British authority —. It was never a “free for all territory.

    It’s clear by the preceding processes Britain — UN handover that a composition of nations overseeing the region and empowered to manage Palestine established a peaceful transitional process of a two state solution and if god ordained, so are the subsequent expectations. Including the demand for Israel to get out of Palestine altogether. If 1948 is God’s date it’s safe to conclude so are all the subsequent UN expectations regarding Palestine.

    Here’a another two thoughts,

    1. Jesus was sent to the Jews first. The message
    that christians embrace if the same message meant
    for the Jews. That includes all of the laws as
    well as all of the NT. Anyone not applying
    Christ’s expectations for Israel is missing
    Christ’s intentions and therefore Gods. The
    beatitudes to Galatians, definition of love all
    apply. Any christian would expect that modern
    day Israel behave in a just manner toward each
    other and their neighbors – essential among those
    expectations as described by the Apostles and
    key for christ — forgiveness. As god’s people
    that is the spiritual reality

    or maybe

    2. 1948 is not God’s date nor God’s plan. And all
    of that has occurred since then is man made
    made. It’s safe to then conclude that nothing
    about modern day Israel is of God and God will
    allow Israel to be demolished once again until
    he sets the course as he wills it. He
    established Israel not the UN, not the Jews,
    not the US.

    Anyone who fears God would be wise to tread lightly about God’s understanding especially when it comes spiritual prophecy. Afterall the Jews who access to all of the prophecies and the history of the children of Abraham — not missed Christ, they orchestrated his death. Christains have on m re than one occasion, thought Christ’s return was at noted moments in history and been incorrect.

    I think Israel has a right to exist and self defense — not a swoon by people of faith about everything she does as if God sanctioned.

  18. EliteCommInc. says:

    “Since the Suez Crisis of 1956.”

    In less than ten years that event confirmed every fear Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world had about Israel intentions.

  19. name your poison says:

    This is Netanyahu’s way of trying to avoid the corruption, bribery, and fraud indictments. He’s a disgrace to decent Israelis.

  20. EliteCommInc. says:

    “The Arabs have several million square miles and Earth’s best, near-surface high grade oil reserves. They have so much oil that they simply burn off the natural gas, a massive waste that creates the brightest lights on Earth. The Arabs have far less claim to Israel than their former allies had to the Sudetenland, and it’s people of a similar outlook who support their goals.”

    This is of course utter nonsense.

    The muslims in this region can trace their existence as far back as the Jews. And the reason they can do so is because the Jews in disobedience of God, failed to remove the previous inhabitants. So when the Jews were defeated by Rome and scattered to the four winds, those descendants remain.

    if tou are going to be tossing around biblical scholarship — it’s a good idea to get relevant detauls correct.

    Furthermore, if in fact UN Res 171 is Israel restored — then talk of European Jews along misses the very purpose. Because the restoration includes all Jews from the winds to which they were scattered.

    It means the Jews from Asia, Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa.
    __________

    “If Israel is restored to its ancient, Biblical borders it will be an indication that God is speaking, and whatever nation or individual assists will gain God’s favor.”

    Only if God is the author, anything else – no guarantees.

  21. Whine Merchant says:

    JEinCA posts: “When do the American Evangelicals who have unwavering support for the modern secular state of Israel ask themselves these questions?”

    Answer: right after they explain how they judge HRC to be an immoral Satanic priestess for staying with her philandering husband, but Trump is a beacon of moral righteousness and family values.
    Wait until the mega-church pastors pronounce his multiple bankruptcies that destroyed small business are a parable from the Gospels.

  22. TTT says:

    The muslims in this region can trace their existence as far back as the Jews.

    …….you, uh, DO know that Judaism predates Islam by about 2,000 years, right?

  23. EliteCommInc. says:

    “JEinCA posts: “ right after they explain how they judge HRC to be an immoral Satanic priestess for staying with her philandering husband, but Trump is a beacon of moral righteousness and family values.”

    Uhhhhh, I just have never heard that sermon. As for staying her her husband, I applaud that as most believers would. They might question her motives, but that is another matter. The integrity and sanctity of marriage is one of the most enduring metaphors and relational dynamic in scripture.

    It was liberals, democrats, and especially feminists who howled and gnashed their teeth that she remained in the marriage. It is they who called weak, a hypocrite to women and slapped her around with “Stand By Your Man”, criticisms.

    At least Tammy Wynette, got them to at least consider the value of marriage and that’s a always healthy.

  24. EliteCommInc. says:

    A little clean up here

    Anyone who fears God would be wise to tread lightly about God’s understanding especially when it comes spiritual prophecy. Afterall the Jews who had access to all of the prophecies and the history of the children of Abraham — not only missed Christ, they orchestrated his death. Christains have on more than one occasion, thought Christ’s return was at noted moments in history and been incorrect.

    I think Israel has a right to exist and self defense — not a swoon by people of faith about everything she does as if God sanctioned.

    For if Christ has indeed come the next messiah they embrace will most likely be the anti-christ and the US will have been the primary source for his weapons for war on earth.

  25. EliteCommInc. says:

    “…….you, uh, DO know that Judaism predates Islam by about 2,000 years, right?”

    you might want to keep my comment in context. When Israel was shattered by Rome, non-Jews did not depart the area. The inhabitants in Palestine were never all jewish. Despite not being Muslims — which is a faith as opposed to a people who merely adopted Islam, they have existed in the regions and can stake claims there. Furthermore, since Israel was destroyed, there was no m ore land to claim as uniquely belonging to them.

    So the new inhabitants have full claim as much as anyone. Now i am going to tread carefully, because there’s so many unknowns. I don’t question prophecy as mush as I do how we understand and apply it —

    But what is clear is that Christ has come and he supersedes any of the demands made by Israel. Is the anti-christ to come the messiah that the Jews still long for – hard to know. and maybe just maybe, it as it should be and God uses the misbehavior of Israel to foment animosity against here as we move to the end . . .

    I do know that Jews were not the only occupants of the region and they can trace that ancestry back, and maybe even before Israel’s arrival as she was suppose to destroy all the previous inhabitants as I recall and did not.

  26. EliteCommInc. says:

    “you, uh, DO know that Judaism predates Islam by about 2,000 years, right?”

    Hmmmmm,

    No.

    Islam traces its roots through Abrahamic lineage and tradition, including the Torah and would note its belief system to creation —-

    I wasn’t going to quibble this, but what the heck.

  27. PAX says:

    To the tracers who justify land annexations

    You do know that the Australian aboriginals can trace their origins back for 40,000-50,000 years which predates Adam and Eve. All this predating is rubbish. Why can’t we have different beliefs and get just get along?

  28. binyamin as bm says:

    I look forward to the prison door clinking shut on Netanyahu. He’s had way too long a run before being caught. A real turd, and I’m glad that the Israelis themselves are flushing him down the toilet. That much at least speaks well of them.

  29. EliteCommInc. says:

    “I look forward to the prison door clinking shut on Netanyahu”

    I would that whatever the issues, that the process if as should be for the Palestinians — a “due process”. And that is why I am disappointed by the president. He of all current leaders should by now know the impact of being subjected to a biased, antagonistic, constant and persistent attacks means to one’s life yet he appears blinded, to the genuine issues Palestinians have.

    Caveat: my comments in no manner mean, I don’t support Israel’s right to exist or have self defense. As someone who leans in the direction of scripture, I recognize most of the historical spiritual implications.

  30. TTT says:

    Islam traces its roots through Abrahamic lineage and tradition, including the Torah and would note its belief system to creation

    So why don’t you also say that Islam is older than Christianity?

    (i bet i know why)

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