Netanyahu and Trump.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described his first conversation with US President Donald Trump since his inauguration as “very warm,” while Trump described it as “very nice.”
We hope the good vibes continue.
The prime minister took an important first step toward rebooting relations with the US by shelving – at least temporarily – a bill that would officially annex Ma'aleh Adumim and place the largest non-haredi settlement beyond the Green Line under Israeli sovereignty.
Netanyahu’s move was criticized by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who called on Netanyahu to take advantage of a “new diplomatic era” and by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who argued that “the rules of the game have changed and you can’t play according to the old rules...
there is no reason why we can’t take unilateral steps that will be right for Israel.”
Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, who was in Washington to attend Friday’s inauguration, also criticized Netanyahu, saying he believes a vote by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation would not have impacted the relationship between Netanyahu and Trump.
However, we believe Netanyahu was right to push back at pressure from his coalition partners and from within the Likud. A consequential decision like annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim should be coordinated fully with the new Trump administration.
There is no reason to risk damaging relations with the US just days after Trump took office. Apparently, the trauma of eight years of sour relations with the Obama administration have taught Netanyahu to be more cautious. Annexation, if that is the right move, can wait until after Netanyahu’s meeting in Washington with the new president.
There is a broad consensus that Ma’aleh Adumim will remain an integral part of Israel in any future territorial arrangement with the Palestinians. In October 1994, while negotiating the terms of the Oslo Accords, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin declared that a “united Jerusalem” under Israeli sovereignty would include Ma’aleh Adumim.
Rabin even provided Kashriel with annexation documents for the E1 area – a strip of land that connects Jerusalem with Ma’aleh Adumim.
As prime minister in 1996, shortly after Rabin’s assassination, then-prime minister Shimon Peres reaffirmed the government’s position that Israel will demand applying Israeli sovereignty over Ma’aleh Adumim in the framework of a permanent peace agreement.
Dovish politician and co-author of the Geneva Initiative Yossi Beilin supported the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim. The 2000 Clinton Parameters called for Israel to be compensated for the partitioning of Jerusalem by annexing Ma’aleh Adumim. During the 2008 Annapolis negotiations, then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni demanded that Ma’aleh Adumim remain a part of Israel.
Governments on the Left and the Right have understood the strategic importance of maintaining control over Ma’aleh Adumim, as well as E1. Without control over E1, Palestinian building could cut off Ma’aleh Adumim – a city with a population of some 40,000 – from the capital.
It could also undermine Israel's access to the Jerusalem- Jericho road, of critical strategic importance for IDF movement from Jerusalem eastward and northward via the Jordan Valley.
Nevertheless, governments on the Left and on the Right have also understood that a decision to unilaterally annex Ma’aleh Adumim would be a game-changing move on Israel’s part. It would be a break with the principle that borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state or autonomous region must be determined through mutual agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Any attempt on Israel’s part to deviate from this principle should be fully coordinated with Washington.
The Trump administration’s position on the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria differs significantly from the Obama administration’s. As The Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff reported, settler leaders who were in Washington for the inauguration last week were emboldened by a new feeling of acceptance they sensed coming from the incoming administration.
However, Netanyahu has an obligation as our nation’s leader to correctly gauge the new approach in Washington.
He is right that rash unilateral moves are a risk this government should not be taking.