Netanyahu and Trump.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A senior political observer recently compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a piece of cooked spaghetti. If you try to push the piece of spaghetti with your finger, it won’t move. But you’ll be able to change its shape a bit if you nudge it.
In other words, Netanyahu doesn’t like being pushed around – but it’s possible to influence him.
This is what the leaders of the Ma’aleh Adumim First campaign, with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett at the fore, seem to have in mind, while keeping an eye on January 20.
January 20, of course, is the day of US President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, a day to which both Netanyahu and Bennett have made clear they are looking forward.
Bennett has called Trump’s election an opportunity for Israel to abandon the two-state solution and annex parts of the West Bank, or as Bennett would say it – because he feels “annex” implies that Israel does not have a right to the land – go from military rule to applying Israeli law.
There’s a fast-approaching deadline for applying Israeli law to new areas anytime soon, and that expiration date would be when Netanyahu first meets with president Trump.
The president-elect’s camp and the Republican platform make it clear that they’re not interested in forcing Israel’s hand. Therefore, there is a good chance the new president will ask Netanyahu where he sees things going, and there is only one chance to make a first impression.
If Netanyahu says he still wants two states, then Trump is likely to go that way. If Netanyahu says something else, then Israel has a better chance to attain that something else than it has in a very long time.
Once Netanyahu sets a standard, however, it will be hard to change. Trump can’t be expected to be more hawkish on Israel than the Israeli prime minister – even if his choice for ambassador, David Friedman, is.
With that in mind, Bennett and his party have been making near-daily proclamations about starting the process with Ma’aleh Adumim – on Monday alone there was a meeting in the Knesset about the plan and a faction meeting in the city itself – even though he talked in the past about going for Gush Etzion first.
The Ma’aleh Adumim First plan began with the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus, led by Likud MK Yoav Kisch and Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich.
Why did Bennett shift his focus to the city near Jerusalem?
Ma’aleh Adumim is a mostly secular city, with a Likud mayor and many Likud voters. Likud MKs have championed the plan to annex the city. Plus, a poll commissioned by the Land of Israel Caucus found that 78% of Israelis support annexing it. The bill proposing to annex the city has support from all coalition parties except United Torah Judaism. That makes it a relatively easy sell for both Netanyahu and the general public.
So, as January 20 approaches, Bennett is nudging the political pasta toward his long-declared goal of annexing Area C of the West Bank by focusing on the most attainable starting point: Ma’aleh Adumim.