Can Trump be swayed to back annexation of communities in Judea and Samaria?

Experts analyze Prime Minister Netanyahu’s announcement on Judea and Samaria, and the White House’s denial that Israel is in talks with the Trump administration about “settlement annexation.”

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “historic” initiative to annex Israeli settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria was announced on Sunday, leaving analysts to speculate about the plan’s details. Netanyahu made it clear that the move would be coordinated with the White House, but there has reportedly been no discussion or coordination on the issue.

Netanyahu told the Likud Knesset faction, “I’m guided by two principles on this issue … optimal coordination with the Americans, whose relationship with us is a strategic asset for Israel and the settlement movement. This must be a government initiative rather than a private one because it would be a historic move.”

Israel later clarified that officials “did not present the administration with specific annexation proposals,” and that the US did not support any of them, because it’s focused on advancing Trump’s yet-unpublished peace plan.

White House spokesman Josh Raffel sent out a blunt statement declaring that “reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for [Judea and Samaria] are false. The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”

‘Two friends with different political agendas’

Marc Zell who heads Republicans in Israel told World Israel News (WIN), “What we have is two friends with different political agendas. Netanyahu is under pressure from his base and is supporting the annexation bill. What he said about his conversations with the Trump administration is not a lie or a fabrication. The White House reaction stems from sensitivity because Secretary of State Tillerson is currently in the region meeting pro-US Arab leaders and he wants to strengthen the alliance to finish off Islamic State and confront the Iranian aggression. Israel raising the annexation issue at this time does not make Tillerson’s job easier. As Trump has said, he does not consider settlements to be an obstacle for peace, wants to reduce tensions and remains committed to his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.”

The governments “annexation” initiative would not extend Israeli sovereignty over all of the territory in Judea and Samaria. Rather, it would be limited to some of the larger Jewish towns and may include some or all of the smaller communities as well. It will not be an annexation of the entire Judea and Samaria region along with its Palestinian population.

Getting US backing for “settlement annexation” would constitute a major shift in policy for the Americans, who have long considered the settlements to be illegal under international law. Trump cautioned about settlements when he told the Israel Hayom daily on Sunday, “The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements.”

Relations between Washington and the Palestinians have been severely strained since Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and and an intention to move the American embassy there.

Following the Dec. 6 announcement on Jerusalem, Trump emphasized that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city. US recognition of Israeli annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria could be considered recognition of changed boundaries.

Will US embrace Israel’s proposal?

Veteran Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger told WIN that the United States should be embracing the Israeli proposal. “It behooves the US government to assess the idea of a Palestinian State from the US perspective. A Palestinian state West of the Jordan River would be a death sentence to the US backed Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan which could become another Iraq, and a platform for regional and global terrorism. There would be a ripple effect from Jordan to Saudi Arabia which could seriously damage US interests in the region. Extending Israeli law over settlements advances Israeli control over the area and bolsters US interests. Israeli control over the mountain ridges is an effective insurance policy for the pro-US regimes in the region. If annexation is presented as a US interest, one should expect substantial support for this idea in Congress.”

“Secretary of State Tillerson’s current mission reflects the priorities of President Trump, and has to do with neutralizing Iranian aggression in the Middle East. The US is ‘a winner’ and that requires maintaining a high profile in the Middle East. The Obama administration was preoccupied with the Palestinian issue. I hope that Tillerson is focused on the most important issue, which is the adventurism and aggression of Iran.”