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Even AIPAC Rejects Netanyahu’s Annexation Plans

AIPAC told lawmakers it's okay to condemn Israel's controversial plan for the West Bank, as long as they don't cut aid.
Bibi Netanyahu

Over the past three days, Jordan’s King Abdullah II held emergency video meetings with several senior members of Congress, from both parties, in an attempt to dissuade them from supporting Israel’s annexation plans. At the same time, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby, told lawmakers it’s okay to condemn Israel’s controversial plan for the West Bank, as long as they don’t cut aid.

A congressional aide and a donor confirmed AIPAC’s guidance was being delivered to lawmakers in video meetings and phone calls, reports The Times of Israel; “the message is unusual because the group assiduously discourages public criticism of Israel.”

The coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz allows for a vote on whether to annex parts of the West Bank as early as July 1. Internationally, annexation has been criticized due to concerns that it would jeopardize peace in the region.

From Haaretz:

“The king stressed again and again that this is an urgent issue, and that even with COVID and other sources of instability around the world, it’s critical to pay attention to what Netanyahu is planning,” said one of the sources. The official statement, added the second source, was “mild” compared to the actual contents of the briefings…

Jordan has been the most outspoken Arab country so far in its opposition to Israel’s annexation plans. Others have also expressed opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, but not as vocally and persistently as Jordan, a country where a large part of the population is of Palestinian origin, or has close family ties to Palestinians.

Former State Department official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Tamara Cofman Wittes told Haaretz that given the billions in aid that Congress has invested in Jordan, Abdullah’s decision to speak directly to members of Congress makes sense.

“Recognition of Israeli annexation is a decision the White House will have to make, but Congress also has an important role to play, and the time for Congress to get involved is now,” she said. “If the annexation move goes forward, and the consequences are like what the king is warning about, then Congress will be one of the first places where he will seek support and assistance.”

Even while not actively encouraging lawmakers to do so, AIPAC’s decision to tell lawmakers they are free to criticize Israel is a significant departure for the pro-Israel lobby. That change has been driven by the Netanyahu government’s decision to ignore private warnings from AIPAC and other Jewish American groups.

Netanyahu’s government listens to what Americans tell him, but in the end, “they do what they want,” an AIPAC donor said.

AIPAC supports a two-state solution, “which annexation would inhibit,” reports The Times of Israel.

As in many other areas of foreign policy, the Trump administration has sent mixed signals on annexation.

While Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s plan in January supported annexation, both the White House and the State Department have said that annexation should occur only as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, however, has signaled that annexation could occur before a deal.

U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman has a long-standing relationship with the settlers movement and “appears to be invested in annexation,” The Times of Israel reports. Friedman will meet with Netanyahu and Gantz to discuss annexation and attempt to resolve their differences.

From The Times of Israel:

Gantz, a former army chief of staff and a former military attache in Washington, is attuned to the sensitivities of the American political establishment, said David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who worked on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking for the Obama administration.

“Anyone who has been chief of staff of the Israeli army understands Israeli dependence on American weaponry, even with Israel with all of its indigenous capability,” Makovsky said, “if you ever want to identify what part of Israeli system is most sensitive to the US-Israel relationship, it’s security people — it’s not just $3.8 billion, it’s the technology, it’s the personal relationships, they feel it.”

There’s also the matter of cost: moving the security barrier and Palestinians from newly annexed areas would cost $7.6 billion, according to a report by the Commanders for Israel’s Security that has been distributed among members of Congress by the Israel Policy Forum.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has attempted to focus the State Department’s efforts on tensions with Iran, and any trouble with Israel and Palestinians would destabilize the region, undermine that effort, and detract from Israel’s international supporters.

All told, Trump administration officials are not keen to see an increase in violence in the Middle East as they head into the presidential election, but it’s unclear exactly what they will do if Israel goes ahead with its annexation plans. So far, they’ve been all over the map.



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