July 1 was the highly touted date Israel was expected to begin extending Israeli law to 30% of the West Bank, including all settlements and the Jordan Valley, as called for in the Trump Peace Plan. Although referred to by the media as “annexation” the move is actually an exercise of Israel’s pre-existing sovereignty over the area, and not the introduction of a new legal reality based on military conquest. But the required vote by the Knesset scheduled for that date never took place. Prime Minister Netanyahu says that it is still on the agenda.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the date passed following a flurry of meetings President Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz had with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and others. And the Trump administration has not been publicly heard from on the issue since, although The Post says it has been told that Berkowitz and his team are still working on details.
But we suggest something else is in play. The Trump plan is premised on the notion that past approaches involving Israel sitting down at the table with the Palestinians to start at square one has not worked and cannot work. The Palestinians are simply unable to get off the dime when it comes to agreeing to relinquishing any part of land it claims as its own.
So the Trump plan embraced an approach that called for negotiations to start after Israel already got what it wanted – and what most observers believe it would get in any serious negotiations. The Palestinians would then be given the opportunity to play catch-up after realizing that their recalcitrance has been rendered meaningless and they should now try to get what they can.
Thus, while the Trump plan called for 30% of the West Bank to go to Israel, the rest would be earmarked for an eventual Palestinian state and that state would receive U.S. and Israeli recognition and a massive aid package. To be sure, there would be several additional conditions – among them, demilitarization and cessation of anti-Israel incitements and of stipends for imprisoned or dead terrorists.
But underlying all of this, of course, is that the Palestinians have to agree to come to the negotiating table to work it all out, something it has steadfastly refused to do.
Now, coming after the relocation of the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and other similar moves by the Trump administration, the prospect of annexation meant that the Palestinians were fast running out of negotiating options.
As we see it, the current delay reflects a desire by the Trump administration to try one last time to incentivize the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table. That is, while the train has long since left the station as to most of what they originally wanted, the Palestinians can still get U.S. and Israeli recognition for what they would now get, as well as major financial aid.
For us, the so-called annexation should proceed forthwith. The Palestinians will never willingly surrender any land claims to Israel. If anything, cementing an Israeli West Bank might make them think harder about negotiations. But most importantly, we rather believe we are in a significant epoch in Jewish history, and a Palestinian state doesn’t fit in. So let’s move ahead and let the chips fall where they may.