Israeli journalist Neri Zilber was on a J Street zoom session today and said that Donald Trump is pushing Israeli annexation of the West Bank to have a tool to divide the Democratic Party ahead of the election and paint the party as anti-Israel.
When people talk about annexation in Trump political terms they often pinpoint, Well, he wants to get out the evangelical and pro-Israel vote back in the States. To my mind I would argue something slightly differently, I think perhaps he wants to move forward or allow Israel to move forward with annexation to create a wedge issue visavis Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. In other words it’s not so much a mobilization tool but a hard political tool to use against Democrats in a very tight election.
We all obviously remember last summer the big brouhaha that Trump created over the potential visit of Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to Israel and accusing the Democratic Party of being anti-Israel, of being leftwing radicals.
I wouldn’t put it past Trump to perhaps seize on the annexation issue and say Look, there’s a wide consensus at least politically in the top of the government in Israel for annexation You have two former IDF chiefs of staff who… may support it, why is Nancy Pelosi’s position for instance more credible visavis Israel’s security and interests than Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi. I would argue that’s Trump’s motivation.
(This is what we have also argued, that Trump is not in a play for evangelical voters, whom he already has, but wants Democratic voters and donors, many of whom are rightwing on this issue, including some older Jews in Florida.)
Zilber, a fellow at the Israel lobby thinktank WINEP, said Joe Biden won’t reverse annexation recognition if he becomes president:
I dont think a Biden administration will likely potentially revoke the recognition that the Trump administration will give to the areas annexed by Israel if and when it happens. I don’t see a scenario where Israel itself rolls back the annexation. I don’t see that.
Zilber said that Netanyahu is pushing for annexation, as a “legacy” move to be remembered as a Zionist giant. “At a deep ideological level this is his motivation.” Zilber thinks that due to all the pressure against it, Netanyahu will commence annexation piecemeal: the settlement blocs inside the Israeli wall, plus one symbolic settlement further afield, like Beit El or Kiryat Arba, as a bone to the zealot-settler camp. “This is a multistage process, trying to placate the settlers.”
While Zilber says he is confused by Netanyahu’s planning, he says the likelihood is that Israel will move ahead with annexing the settlement blocs, then look at the international response, and the response from Palestinians– and “then they move forward with more annexation. I think that’s the real risk.”
It’s hard to say what the world will do, beyond lip service opposition. Netanyahu will tell the world, We’re not against peace talks or a Palestinian state, Zilber says. “They’re going to try to bludgeon the international criticism of such a move.”
As for the Israeli public, the settlement blocs are “in the consensus” for the Israeli public, so annexation is not a big issue for Jewish Israelis. That’s why Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi folded to Netanyahu on annexation– because the Israeli Jewish public doesn’t care, Zilber said.