Annexation: Much ado about nothing... yet - analysis

It was like Super Bowl Sunday without the actual Super Bowl game: no main event following all the hype.

Signs abour annexation with pictures of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are displayed in Israel (photo credit: COURTESY YESHA COUNCIL)
Signs abour annexation with pictures of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are displayed in Israel
(photo credit: COURTESY YESHA COUNCIL)
Talk about sound and fury signifying nothing.
After weeks of endless talk and speculation in Israel, threats and fulminations in the Palestinian Authority, and warnings and condemnations everywhere from the heart of America’s Democratic Party to Tehran, July 1 came and went on Wednesday without a peep from the government about extending Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as annexing a part of the West Bank.
There was a demonstration in the Gaza Strip, the Ashkelon Municipality opened bomb shelters for fear of possible Hamas rocket fire, and there was some noise in Ramallah. But there was not a massive day of rage or violence anywhere for one simple reason: nothing happened.
It was like Super Bowl Sunday without the actual Super Bowl game – no main event following all the hype.
Truth be told, there never was anything sacred about July 1; it was an artificial deadline that wasn’t even a deadline – more of a target. The media bears much responsibility for creating the expectation that annexation would begin on July 1, when even a cursory reading of the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White signed in mid May made clear that annexation could happen as of July 1.
Nobody promised that July 1 would be “Annexation Day.”
“With regard to President [Donald] Trump’s declaration [the ‘Deal of the Century’], the prime minister and alternate prime minister will act together and in a coordinated manner in full agreement with the United States, including with regard to the maps in coordination with the US and international dialogue on the issue, while pursuing the security and strategic interests of the State of Israel, including the need for maintaining regional stability, maintaining peace agreements and striving for future peace agreements,” the convoluted agreement read. “After a discussion and consultation between the prime minister and the alternate prime minister on the principles set out above, the prime minister will be able to bring the agreement to be reached with the United States on the application of sovereignty as of July 1, 2020, for cabinet and government debate and for approval by the government and/or the Knesset.”
July 1 was never the deadline for annexation, but rather the beginning of when the process could begin.
That being said, however, Netanyahu made it clear during the first Likud faction meeting held after the swearing in of the government on May 17 that he hoped to move on the issue swiftly.
“Regarding the application of sovereignty – we have a target date for July and we do not intend to change it. We will work wisely and together,” he was quoted as saying during a part of the meeting held off-camera.
Those who believe that even though July 1 passed, Netanyahu could get this done quickly in the coming days, should take into consideration that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, whose ministry would need to market the plan, said on Wednesday that he does not know what will be; that the Justice Ministry has not been involved in preparation, something that would be inconceivable had a widespread move been in the works, since there are so many legal issues to be dealt with; and that the IDF has held no in-depth discussions to operationalize the plan.
And all that indicates one of three possibilities: Netanyahu wanted to go ahead with some type of annexation but was stymied by an American administration that got cold feet and a coalition partner unenthusiastic about the idea; the whole annexation discussion, which suddenly appeared before each of three elections in 2019-2020, was little more than a campaign ploy to peel right-wing voters away from Yamina and to the Likud; it was a bluff from the beginning aimed at gaining leverage with the Palestinians – who are now saying that they are willing to negotiate with Israel if there is no annexation – or with the Arab world to facilitate greater normalization.
July 1 passed on Wednesday without any greater clarity now than there has been for weeks regarding what Netanyahu is actually planning to do on this issue.