In nine days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to bring a proposal to apply Israeli law to parts of Judea and Samaria to a vote in the cabinet, as per the Likud-Blue and White coalition agreement.
Yet the direction in which Israel is heading on this matter is no clearer now than it was when the coalition agreement was signed two months ago.
US President Donald Trump’s peace plan would have Israel extend its sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and all settlements, with an exact map outlined by a joint Israeli-American committee. Israel would not be able to expand settlements beyond the lines of that map for the following four years, during which the Palestinian Authority would get a chance to clean up its act: Stop inciting to terrorism, stop paying convicted terrorists monthly salaries, start giving its people civil rights, etc. If they did so, they would get a state – albeit a demilitarized one – with massive economic aid.
But now there are other ideas on the table.
The US said from the beginning that its support for Israeli annexation had to go with a buy-in from Netanyahu on their plan, which they got on the day of its presentation. Netanyahu has continued to effusively support the plan ever since.
In recent weeks, the White House decided it needs Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s support as well, though Netanyahu has the votes to make sovereignty happen without Blue and White.
Gantz, who at the time was Netanyahu’s major opposition in the triple election season, met with Trump in January and emerged with positive comments about the plan.
But reading between the lines lurks clear hesitation. In all of Gantz’s remarks on the matter, he emphasizes the need to cooperate with Israel’s neighbors and maintain our peace treaties. Jordan, Israel’s neighbor and the other side of a peace treaty, vociferously opposes the plan. The plan also specifically views sovereignty as a first step to send a message to the Palestinians, but Gantz wants Israel and the Palestinians to act together – something that is highly unlikely.
Gantz would, at most, back a smaller step, impacting far less than 30% of the West Bank, and not the Jordan Valley. And though the plan specifically states that Israelis would remain in Israel and Palestinians under the Palestinian Authority, his team has briefed journalists that he does not want to annex any Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been cagey about the Palestinian state aspect of the plan. In a briefing immediately following the plan’s presentation, Netanyahu’s camp presented it as less than a state. Netanyahu also told the Likud faction that neither the Trump plan as a whole, nor support for a Palestinian state would be brought to a vote in the Knesset. But Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who is very close to Netanyahu, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post this weekend that the Trump plan “will open the door to a realistic two-state solution.”
Since there’s no specific plan yet, the prep work is not being done. The Defense Ministry has not yet figured out the security implications of Israel taking action; the Finance Ministry hasn’t calculated how much it will cost; the Interior Ministry hasn’t figured out the implications for local government. And the list goes on.
All of this adds up to July 1 fast approaching with our leaders at odds with one another, no one knowing whether Israel will take a major step toward establishing permanent borders this summer.
The impasse was so bad that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman briefly tried to mediate between the sides in Israel. This week Friedman plans to head to Washington to determine the official White House position on the matter.
But as Friedman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said, this is ultimately Israel’s decision. And it is a huge decision.
Netanyahu and Gantz need to make their plans clear so there can be a proper process of oversight. Ministers need to be able to review the plan, the Knesset needs to be able to hold discussions, the army needs to prepare its troops and the people – the true sovereign in Israel – can also understand the direction their country is headed.
Decisions like annexation should not be made in the dark or at the last minute. If Netanyahu and Gantz plan to move ahead they need to prepare accordingly. Now is the time to do that.