Give Netanyahu his lasting legacy with annexation - opinion

Israel needs to apply sovereignty to its land, and it may very well need to do this sooner rather than later. This can give Netanyahu a lasting legacy.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks out of a military helicopter, as he visits an old army outpost overlooking the Jordan Valley last year. (photo credit: ABIR SULTAN / REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks out of a military helicopter, as he visits an old army outpost overlooking the Jordan Valley last year.
(photo credit: ABIR SULTAN / REUTERS)
As Israel begins to emerge from the coronavirus relatively unscathed compared to other countries of its size, nightmare predictions have not come true, thanks to the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the impressive discipline and resilience of Israelis.
Now imagine that instead of Netanyahu leading the way, and his people implementing his decisions, a superpower tried to impose its will on the Jewish state and dictate key policies that would have a major impact on all its citizens.
Perhaps people with short memories cannot recall, but that used to happen all the time before Israel’s best-ever friend in the White House, Donald Trump, became president of the United States. Both Democratic and Republican presidents regularly tried to pressure Israel to make concessions that a consensus of Israelis opposed.
Unsurprisingly, Israelis do not want to return to the bad old days.
But the Middle East advisers who worked for presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama apparently do. Despite there unquestionable experience, they fail to appreciate the changing times and the shift to a new Middle East paradigm, in which Israel is respected by most of its neighbors.
Those advisers, Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, penned an article for the Times of Israel titled, “On annexation, Netanyahu must choose a lasting legacy.” In the article, they warned against Israel’s intentions to implement President Trump’s Middle East peace plan, especially the clauses related to applying Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, the biblical heartland of the Jewish people.
“History will not take a kind view to annexation of all settlements, a step that in any case Netanyahu himself did not intend less than a decade ago,” they wrote. “We hope the premier draws a lesson from his key predecessors and chooses a worthy legacy, one that ensures Israel’s Jewish and democratic character is secure for generations.”
Makovsky and Ross gleaned those “intentions” of the prime minister less than a decade ago from a speech given by Netanyahu to the Knesset on May 16, 2011. They suggest that Bibi stated he would seek to annex only a fraction of settlements as part of a negotiated deal with the Palestinians based on the consensus of the Israeli public.
“We agree that we must maintain the settlement blocs,” they pointed out that he said in the speech. “There is widespread agreement that the settlement blocs must remain within the State of Israel.”
Makovsky and Ross cited this quote that they took out of context as evidence that Netanyahu wanted to evacuate all Jewish communities over the pre-1967 border except what are defined as settlement blocs.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
In that speech, Netanyahu defined what at the time was the Israeli consensus. In what was a profound statement back then, Netanyahu was pointing out that even the Left in Israel favored keeping the settlement blocs.
The proper way to interpret what Netanyahu said was that while settlements not in blocs were supported by the Right that he led, the blocs were supported by the Israeli Right, center and Left.
IN THEIR sanctimonious assessment of Netanyahu, they say he was correct in articulating the Israeli consensus, but they neglect to mention that the consensus in Israel has changed significantly since then.
Shortly after that speech, UNESCO voted to recognize Palestine as a state, a decision that made Netanyahu more vigilant. Since then, there have been rockets, mortars, terrorist tunnels, shootings, stabbings and incendiary kites, all of which persuaded Israelis to take a harder line with the Palestinians.
The Israeli consensus now mirrors the positions in Trump’s peace plan, including the clauses enabling Israel to apply sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria.
An Israel Democracy Institute poll taken last month asked Israelis if they would support “a plan coordinated with the United States for applying sovereignty to parts of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria if it would be brought for the government and the Knesset’s approval.”
More than half the respondents, 51.7%, answered affirmatively. Only 27.9% said they would oppose such a move.
Since that is the consensus now, Ross and Makovsky should be pushing Netanyahu and other Israelis to implement the plan, not to reject it. They should be telling the 450,000 Jews of Judea and Samaria that they will never have to move.
At the very least, they should be silently repenting for all their failures in past peace processes in which they tried to push Israel to make concessions and evacuate settlements.
So why is an article on Israel’s second-most read English news site, written by two former Democratic White House advisers, worthy of attention?
Simply put, an American election is coming up, and it is possible that Trump could be defeated by former vice president Joe Biden. If that happens, Ross and Makovsky could once again have the ear of an American president, something that could be very dangerous for the future of Israel.
Makovsky and Ross would take the US-Israel relationship back to the bad old days of the US pressuring Israel. They would take the Middle East backward to when mediators shuttled between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and frequently sided with Ramallah against America’s best friend in the region. Israel’s progress with its neighbors would be set back.
Former Clinton and Obama staffers are already advising Biden about how to handle Israel, and misleading him, and it is already starting to show.
In a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Tuesday, Biden said the US should press Israel not to take any actions that jeopardize a two-state solution.
“A priority now for the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace should be resuming our dialogue with the Palestinians, and pressing Israel not to take actions that make a two-state solution impossible,” Biden said.
Israel does not need pressing. It needs to apply sovereignty to its land, and it may very well need to do this sooner rather than later.
This can indeed give Netanyahu a lasting legacy, and it would also preempt future nightmares for the Jewish state.

The writer is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and a committee member of the Jewish Agency.