(photo credit: REUTERS)
Campaign promises are legendary and notorious. For politicians, it is the coin of the realm in every election: Vote for me, and I’ll make your life better; vote for me, and I’ll take care of your biggest concerns. Except that not every campaign promise is the same.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement in a television interview Saturday night that he plans to annex settlements in the West Bank is not some candidate pledging to parents in Jerusalem that he will reduce payments for pre-kindergarten schooling.
Such a broad campaign pledge as annexing West Bank territory is not a local matter but a clarion call with worldwide ramifications, demonstrated by newspapers around the world carrying the story.
Netanyahu told news channels Saturday night that he had told US President Donald Trump he would not evacuate “a single person” from any of the settlements. “That [evacuation] will not be happening. If that’s the [forthcoming peace] plan, there will be no plan.”
If reelected, Netanyahu told Ch. 12: “I will not uproot a single settlement. I will ensure that we will continue to rule over the territory west of the Jordan River.”
Netanyahu has expressed similar sentiments before, but now he was giving it a new twist: “Now you are asking an interesting question. Will we continue onto the next phase? The answer is yes. We will continue onto the next phase: the application of sovereignty.
“I am going to apply Israeli sovereignty, but I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements. From my perspective, each of those settlement points is Israeli. We have a responsibility [to them] as the government of Israel. I don’t uproot any, and I won’t transfer them to the sovereignty of the Palestinians. I take care of them all.”
This was news, and reason enough for world media to cover the story. As The Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff pointed out, Netanyahu broke a diplomatic taboo, being the first time since he took office in 2009 that he used the word “sovereignty” when speaking of Judea and Samaria.
If nothing else, this was the ultimate campaign promise. If politicians will say anything to get reelected, then this annexation announcement is the card Netanyahu kept for the last minute, aimed squarely at right-wing voters whose support Netanyahu is seeking to ensure a fifth term.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked took credit for the abrupt announcement, saying it was because she and New Right co-party leader Naftali Bennett “changed the discourse. It’s a great achievement for us that he speaks like that. I believe the declaration is a product of the upcoming elections and the pressure we exerted on him in the past.”
Netanyahu’s new declaration might work for election results, but at what cost? Some analysts say such a move would be irresponsible, and disastrous for Israel’s security, economy and diplomacy.
The Arab Balad Party issued a statement following Netanyahu’s pronouncement, saying: “The war crimes committed by Netanyahu and his government are causing irreversible damage to the entire region, and we’ll oppose and struggle against the annexation, and demand they respect the UN resolutions to dismantle all the settlements.”
Netanyahu has a history of making last-minute campaign pledges that, once elected, he retracts. Whether Netanyahu actually applies sovereignty in the next government depends on who will be his coalition partners, and how much push-back he receives from the Trump administration. It is more than likely that the right-wing parties with which he forms a coalition would demand West Bank sovereignty as a condition for joining that coalition.
Annexing territory is a major issue that has vexed Israeli citizens and governments for 52 years: What to do with all the land captured in the Six Day War? Decisions and answers to that question should not be made on the fly during an election campaign, especially three days before elections. These are serious matters that require national debate and discourse. Let’s decide together, as a country, on such an important step.
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