Is the US really the reason Netanyahu is not annexing settlements?

Netanyahu is right that Trump is busy with other matters, with his reelection campaign and his coronavirus response clearly foremost on the agenda.

JUST GIVE HIM one more chance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump at the White House this week. (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
JUST GIVE HIM one more chance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump at the White House this week.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly admitted something on Monday night that The Jerusalem Post has been reporting for over a month: The Trump administration has yet to give Israel a green light to apply sovereignty to settlements in Judea and Samaria.
US President Donald “Trump is now busy with other things and [sovereignty] is not top on his mind,” Netanyahu told Channel 20.
“It was clear from the start that the application of sovereignty would be done only with agreement from the US. Otherwise, I would have already done it a while ago,” he stated. “I hope that in the near future we will be able to advance recognition of the application of sovereignty as well as other diplomatic issues of importance to Israel.”
Netanyahu is right that Trump is busy with other matters, with his reelection campaign and his coronavirus response clearly foremost on the agenda.
The Trump administration’s peace team – Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and Scott Leith of the National Security Council – were in Israel at the end of June to work with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on the implementation of their peace plan, meeting with Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, and others. Berkowitz presented their conclusions to Special Adviser to the President Jared Kushner, but over a month later, they have yet to meet with Trump on this matter.
But Netanyahu is presenting a very one-sided story that he is raring to go, but Trump and his busy schedule have been reining him in.
Friedman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tell a somewhat different story. In their recent public comments on the matter, they said that sovereignty moves are Israel’s decision.
What they mean is that, if Israel needs to actively decide that extending its law to up to 30% of Judea and Samaria, including settlements and the Jordan Valley, in accordance with the Trump plan, is what it wants to do. The US isn’t going to tell Israel to do it.
But – just like Netanyahu’s remarks – that’s only one side of the story.
Expanding sovereignty has been discussed by the Israeli Right for decades, and no one has made a move since former prime minister Menachem Begin’s government passed the Golan Heights Law in 1982, partly because it would threaten relations with Israel’s greatest ally.
There is no chance that Netanyahu would take that step without American support.
The truth is that both descriptions of the situation are true at the same time.
Netanyahu needs American support, but he also needs to decide what he wants to do.
As the prime minister said in that same Channel 20 interview, Trump’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Pompeo’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are not illegal per se “didn’t happen by accident.”
Netanyahu and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer pushed for all of those landmark changes in US policy, and those are all matters on which the government of Israel has always been clear.
Extending Israeli law in Judea and Samaria is another matter. Yes, Netanyahu applauded the Trump plan and said in the immediate aftermath that he plans to take sovereignty steps. But behind closed doors, he has not decided what that step he’s going to take – the whole 30% the plan suggests, major blocs, or something else – or when he wants to take it.
The prime minister also hasn’t brought anything before the cabinet for a discussion, as the coalition agreement says he must.
If Netanyahu was ready to do so, if he thought it was important at this time, he could come up with a serious plan to show Trump administration members and push for the president to agree to moving forward with sovereignty. And he could have done that at any point in the weeks between when the new government was formed and July 1, the first date that the coalition agreement would have allowed him to bring sovereignty to a vote.
In reality, as he said about Trump, Netanyahu is also “busy with other things and [sovereignty] is not top on his mind.” There’s the coronavirus response and economic crisis, which ought to be top priority, and there’s the political crisis of Netanyahu’s making, which is surely occupying much of his time, along with a myriad other things.
And there's also the possibility that Netanyahu, who has always tended towards maintaining the status quo, is putting off this decision for strategic reasons.
Trump may be too busy to deal with Israeli sovereignty moves, but Netanyahu is not just a bystander. He is responsible for the indefinite delay, as well.


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