Maximum v. minimum sovereignty: Netanyahu-led coalition struggles internally

U.S. Ambassador to Israel apparently mediating between Netanyahu who wants “maximal” annexation and Gantz who wants only “minimal” annexation. 

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

America’s ambassador to Israel appears to have found himself in the middle of an ideological battle Israel’s leaders are waging with each other over the upcoming annexation of settlements, Yediot Aharonot reported on Monday.

Ambassador David Friedman attended two meetings about the settlement issue hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attended by his Blue and White Party coalition partners, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Friedman, a religious Jew known for his strong support of Israel, is apparently mediating between Netanyahu’s desire to annex all settlements in Judea and Samaria, a “maximal” annexation, versus Blue and White leader Gantz’s “minimal” annexation. Gantz has previously said he is in favor of annexing the strategic Jordan Valley.

Gantz reportedly wants to preserve ties with Israel’s Arab neighbors, especially Jordan, with which Israel signed a strategically important peace treaty in 1997.

Jordanian leaders and other Arab countries have voiced their opposition to any annexation by Israel, saying it would damage relations not only with Egypt and Jordan – the two Arab neighbors with which it has peace agreements – but also Israel’s blossoming unofficial ties with other Arab countries.

Without the agreement of Blue and White to achieve a national “consensus” in Israel, the White House may also get cold feet about backing any annexation move, the report said.

A third meeting is expected with Netanyahu officials, who are convinced that this is “a historic opportunity” to gain American acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over settlements.

Blue and White officials told Yediot that Gantz and Ashkenazi were maintaining ambiguity about maximal annexation on the grounds that “they have not yet formulated their position.”

Close associates say they support President Donald Trump’s peace plan in principle, but want it done with international coordination.

“Applying sovereignty should be done responsibly, it would be better to be part of an overall move and only in coordination with world countries, with emphasis on the U.S. and Jordan,” party sources said.

There also appear to be differences of opinion in the Trump administration, with Friedman supporting full annexation while Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner prefers minimal annexation.

Under pressure from its Arab allies to curb the scope of annexation, the White House appears to have made it clear annexation must take place this summer and not too close to the November elections.

There is also opposition to the plan within Netanyahu’s own Likud Party from the right, with members saying annexation as it stands now will cut off dozens of isolated settlements.

“As we studied the program, the excitement faded and became a deep concern and deep sorrow,” according to a letter signed by a thousand Likud members.  “Tens of thousands will feel threatened [by surrounding Arabs] and will prefer to leave these homelands… How did the Likud government make such proposals?”