Mondoweiss / November 11, 2020
Trump will push annexation of West Bank, and if Netanyahu sees it as in his political interest to be antagonistic to Biden, he will accede, say two prominent Israel lobbyists.
In the few weeks he has left, Donald Trump will push Israeli annexation of the West Bank, in part to sow hostility between Israel and the Biden administration, and Israel might grab this once in a lifetime opportunity to seize more land. This is the view of two prominent Israel lobbyists.
Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum said he is “very confident” that Trump will push Israeli annexation.
“Members of the Trump administration will be doing everything they can to push the Israeli government to go forward with annexation before January 20th and… it ultimately will come down to whether Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks it’s a good idea to act on that with a new presidency that he has to deal with come January or whether he thinks it will be wiser to not start off with a President Biden on such a bad foot. I think the likely scenario here is we see the Trump administration greenlight stuff and try to push the Israeli government to move forward on some aspect of annexation and the Israeli government is smart enough to not go forward with it. But we’re in for a chaotic two months, both on that front and many other fronts.”
Biden has been clear throughout his campaign that he opposes annexation, and he will make “a very clear and unambiguous statement” to that effect if Israel undertakes annexation, Koplow said. But Netanyahu may well decide that it is helpful to his own efforts to stay in office and out of jail “to take an antagonistic approach” to Biden.
Sheldon Adelson is Trump’s biggest donor, and he has long pushed pro-Israel policies from Trump, and is surely doing so now.
Aaron Weinberg, government relations director of Israel Policy Forum, echoed the view that the Trump administration would push annexation in the next few weeks.
It’s yet to be seen whether Netanyahu will take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to move forward and how oppositional he wants to be with a Biden administration.
Of course Netanyahu and Biden have a long relationship, Weinberg said, and it’s not like when Obama came into office and Netanyahu was immediately “oppositional.” But that may not matter. Netanyahu may want to take advantage of the opportunity based on his own calculations of maintaining his grip on the right-wing power structure in Israel. Weinberg said:
Everyone should prepare for the worst and be surprised if it’s better than that… I think there’s a lot of calculations and instability to come. .. there will be some movement on that issue by the White House and it’s only a question of whether Netanyahu takes the bait.
Both men also said that while Biden won’t seek to reverse many of Trump’s actions in Israel and Palestine, the Trump “peace plan” of January 2020 is a dead letter. And this stance will also create tensions between Israel and Biden.
I think it is going to be a complete nonstarter for a Biden administration… The Trump plan really just busted beyond any boundaries that had existed before, and there’s almost nothing in it that is really going to be a starting point for a Biden administration. But for the Israeli government, that is the new baseline and that is going to cause difficulties going forward. Because Israeli expectations have been reset and I’m certain that within the corridors of the Israeli government there may be an approach that says All we have to do here is wait things out for the next Republican administration, and the next Republican administration will pick up where the Trump plan left off.
Weinberg agreed but said that Israeli and Republican politicians are likely to intrigue against Biden using the Trump plan.
I think it’s totally and completely dead. . .It’s just going to be so dead and gone. . . . [T]he most conservative Republicans in the Congress. . . will clutch dearly to it and continue to speak on the House and Senate floors about the Trump plan being a baseline and whenever the Biden administration makes any moves on the conflict or dealing with Israel at all, it will inevitably come up and I’m sure there will be lots of coordination of talking points about it between a lot of people across the ocean who have worked together on that side. But I think you will even begin to see mainstream Republicans simply see it as not a serious offer, because it wasn’t, and I think we will be moving on fairly quickly and fairly significantly from that.
Koplow also questioned whether Trump really cares about Israel, pointing to Netanyahu’s evident terror of crossing Trump, when he waited 12 hours to congratulate Biden on his victory in a tweet that did not even call Biden president-elect: “Congratulations @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris.”
“We should all question what it means in terms of President Trump’s pro-Israel record and to what extent Israel can rely on him, when the prime minister of Israel is scared to congratulate the next president because of what he thinks the current president might do,” Koplow said.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006.