Netanyahu's election stunt

In all of the recent elections, Netanyahu has vowed to annex settlements in the West Bank but has yet to do so.

September 11, 2019 18:50
3 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu announces that if reelected, he will extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan V

Benjamin Netanyahu announces that if reelected, he will extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, September 10 2019. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

 A day after holding a news conference about Iran’s nuclear program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hosted an election stunt promising to apply Israeli sovereignty over Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. He asserted he would not do anything without getting a clear mandate, and said he was asking for just such a mandate by way of the September 17 election.

In a sense, Netanyahu has now pegged his election performance to this vow to annex a swath of the West Bank that includes areas of the Jordan Valley, and which would effectively make Jericho an island within a new land area of Israel. Netanyahu included a map to show his remarks were not just half-baked. He said that the annexation would not include any Palestinians, and that Palestinians would have freedom of movement. “Over the past few months I led a diplomatic effort, and over the past few days the diplomatic conditions have become ready,” he said.

Netanyahu’s desire for annexation now buries the words of the Bar-Ilan speech in 2009 in which he appealed to Palestinians to begin peace negotiations.

“I say to the Palestinians, we want to live with you in peace, quiet and good neighborly relations,” he said then, adding that he did not want to rule over the Palestinians. He even spoke of mutual respect and of these two peoples with their own flags and governments. Now, empowered by the friendliest US administration in history, Netanyahu has mistaken that support for a reason to pull an election stunt whose chances of being implemented are unclear.

This is not without precedent. In all of the recent elections, Netanyahu has vowed to annex settlements in the West Bank but has yet to do so.

During his campaign this year, Netanyahu’s Likud has called him a leader who is in “another league,” with posters showing him shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump. Netanyahu prides himself on running foreign relations, even as the Foreign Ministry has been gutted.

To his credit, Israel has achieved awesome results under his leadership, from the economy to security. He has not dragged Israel into more wars in Gaza, and has navigated the Iranian challenge in Syria – which is one of the most complex challenges Israel has faced historically – avoiding war there while keeping back the Iranians and neutralizing their threats. Netanyahu and his team have threaded the needle.

Netanyahu’s terms as prime minister have generally been empty of bold decisions regarding the Palestinian issue. He believes Israel can reach out to Gulf states and other regional states without a two-state solution. He used his first period as prime minister in the 1990s to work against the Oslo Accords, correctly understanding that they could lead to renewed Palestinian terrorist attacks. Netanyahu prefers to manage the conflict.

But this tinkering with the conflict has been thrown out the window now that Trump is in Washington. It was fine when it came to Jerusalem and the Golan, which Israel had already annexed. But Netanyahu’s vow to annex the Jordan Valley would be the first major change in Israel’s policy since disengagement and the momentous decision like Oslo or the peace accords with Egypt, steering Israel in a new direction.

This has led to concern abroad and among Israel’s friends. Is Israel about to bury Oslo and set a new course? If that is happening, then Israel needs to explain what the full strategy and plan are, not just to its friends but to Israeli citizens. What comes after the annexation? What happens to the Palestinians who live in the Jordan Valley? What happens to the rest of the West Bank? We don’t know the plan, probably because there is no plan. Instead, Netanyahu is pushing a massive policy change just for votes.
This cheapens Israel, cheapens the image of the prime minister, and erodes trust abroad. It is essential that Israel have that trust to receive support, and it is important that foreign leaders don’t think Israeli politicians make bold decisions just for votes.

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