Netanyahu's comments: a campaign promise, not a policy announcement

Before reacting to the PM's announcement about applying Israeli law to Jewish settlements, we should remember that we're two weeks before elections.

A view from Dolev settlement towards the area where the explosion occurred in Ein Bubin (photo credit: TPS)
A view from Dolev settlement towards the area where the explosion occurred in Ein Bubin
(photo credit: TPS)
WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about applying Israeli law in all the Jewish settlements should be taken with a grain of salt. It was a campaign promise more than a policy announcement.
In the last two election cycles, the prime minister made a significant announcement about Israel’s right over the West Bank at the final stretch of his campaign. In 2015, days before the election, Netanyahu backed off from his support of the two-state solution as previously expressed in the Bar-Ilan speech.
Five months ago, two weeks before Israel’s April election, he made a statement about a possible annexation of the settlements and mentioned conversations that he was having with the Trump administration about applying Israeli sovereignty over Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
Netanyahu has not repeated these comments during this election cycle – until now.
On Sunday, he declared that all the settlements should be under Jewish sovereignty. He made the declaration alongside Minister of Education Rafi Peretz, a political rival with whom he is competing against for the right-wing vote.
The $64,000 question that remains is if Netanyahu knows something about the US administration’s approach that the public does not yet know.
For example, if US President Donald Trump is willing to support applying Israeli law to the settlement blocs of Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel, and whether the two leaders are coordinated on that front.
But even if the answer is affirmative, this is a move that the US is more likely to announce as part of the upcoming peace plan. In other words, the announcement would come only after the elections.
The Trump administration has consistently avoided providing a clear message about the future of the settlements or a stance on the two-state solution. US officials stayed away from this controversy before of the April election and is expected to do the same now.
And while it is possible that the administration would be willing to go as far as recognizing Israel’s sovereignty in these areas, obviously nothing would be finalized on the ground before September 17.
It is not a coincidence that he decided to voice this message in Elkana, standing next to Peretz. The decision of whether to apply Israeli sovereignty depends on the outcome of the elections – and that’s the message Netanyahu wanted to convey.