Israel has been one of the most consistent supporters of the Trump administration since his election to the Presidency, and there is an excellent reason for it: Trump has consistently promoted Israel’s position on the Palestinian conflict.
Trump hasn’t always supported Israel’s interests; his betrayal of the Kurds led directly to more pressure on Israel’s borders. On arguably one key issue, however, he has been unshaken – and that has been greatly appreciated by Israeli interests. Even despite his open support of anti-Semites in the U.S. and around the world, he has remained popular in the Middle Eastern democracy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided that Israel will have no better opportunity to solidify its borders than during the Trump Presidency, and has an eye toward officially annexing land in the West Bank before Trump leaves office. This timeline has been greatly accelerated by Trump’s poor poll numbers and, in Netanyahu’s mind, obviously needs to be deeply into the physical process of re-establishing borders by the time of the election.
Any such annexation has already been declared to be against international law. He is therefore expecting significant blowback from most of the world about this action, and he is furthermore expecting the new President – likely, Biden – to place more value on dozens of international trade partners and alliances than the alliance with Israel. He may also fear that Biden will be actively pro-Palestinian in his political views, as Obama often seemed to be.
These are all reasonable political calculations. Benny Gantz, who is set to ascend to the Prime Minister position in 2021, has been in agreement with Netanyahu on them. In the last day, however, he has been publicly showing hesitancy. There is a reason for that.
First, as to what land is to be annexed: in theory, starting tomorrow, Israel will formally annex about 30% of the land currently controlled by the Palestinians. The area encompasses all of the land bordering Jordan, including the shores of the Dead Sea. It also incorporates all of the established Israeli settlements, as well as pathways between those settlements. The result would be a Palestinian area which would resemble a cross-section of an anthill, with pockets separated from each other by land bridges of various sizes.
The result would put an end to any “two-state solution” talks, which have been the goal of world powers for decades. That goal shows every sign of being irrational, as multiple attempts at concessions have run afoul of the demands for “right of return” and the official desire to kill or remove all Israelis from the area. Many Arabic nations in the area and the Palestinians alike wish the destruction of Israel, not co-existence. But it has remained the dream, and killing that dream will result in significant backlash to Israel.
Netanyahu seems to be of the opinion that he can weather the storm through four our eight years of a Democrat President, bolstered by support from allies in Congress. Most Republicans look favorably upon Israel, and the anti-Israel factions in the Democrat party, while often numbering more than the pro-Israel factions, are likely to work with the Republicans to mitigate any severe penalties. Meanwhile, a major pipeline for weapons and other illicit support would be shut down as the border with Jordan was secured and the international focus would be forcibly shifted from a “two state solution” to pressuring the Palestinians to either relocate or recant some of their anti-Israeli rhetoric and join with the many Israeli Arabs in constructing a peaceful country.
Gantz may be seeing another possibility. Trump is angling toward not simply a loss, but a landslide failure. If the Democrats gain significantly in both houses of Congress, there may be enough pressure from their constituents that even the pro-Israeli factions will go along with damaging sanctions, in part because of Israel’s obvious and staunch support of Donald Trump. Worse, there are indications that the Republican losses won’t be a matter of just four or eight years… Trump has soured the Republican brand with the youth and many suburbanites, which risks rendering the Republican party critically damaged.
Yes, this is undoubtedly the best opportunity Israel will have to secure its borders for a long time… but it may be unwise to take that opportunity.
This viewpoint is gaining strength in part due to talks with the White House, which Israeli news agencies are reporting are not proceeding well for Netanyahu. The President’s people, and likely Trump himself, do not want Israel to pursue annexation right now because they’re concerned about the political blowback on Trump’s re-election efforts.
Israel is seeing, as they did with the Kurdish betrayal, that Trump is a fair-weather friend only, and will always put his own interests ahead of everyone and everything else… even when he is tempted with his favorite things, public praise and places being named after him. Israel’s trust and dependence on Trump is leading them into a very precarious position, because that’s what happens when anyone trusts Trump.