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Is the Settlers’ Movement Right to Feel Deceived by Netanyahu? (Part 1)

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The Israeli settlers’ movement is angry with Prime Minister Minister Netanyahu, who, they believe, had deceived them into thinking he would extend Israeli sovereignty over part, or even all, of the West Bank. But now he has agreed “to suspend” any such move, in order to make possible the UAE-Israel agreement to normalize relations. For the settlers, Netanyahu has missed a “golden opportunity” that may not come again. The reaction of the settlers is here.

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Residents of Judea and Samaria feel sidelined by Israel’s historic deal to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates.

Their anger could be a problem for Netanyahu, whom they accuse of repeatedly floating the idea of sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and settlements in Judea and Samaria only to cave in to international pressure when the terms of the UAE deal required him to walk back his promises.

Netanyahu did not “cave in” to “international pressure.” The only pressure he cared about was that from the Trump Administration.

He deceived us, defrauded us, duped us,” said David Elhayani, head of Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria (Yesha).

Netanyahu had said all along that he was ready to extend Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank provided that the Trump Administration gave the green light. But the Administration did not give the go-ahead, believing that such a move – at this time – would prevent the UAE from normalizing relations with Israel. Netanyahu never “deceived, defrauded, duped” the settlers. He told them exactly what he would do had the Americans agreed. But from the perspective of Trump and Kushner, and ultimately of Netanyahu himself, that normalization with the UAE took priority over annexation. For such an agreement, the Americans reasoned, would likely lead other Arab states – Bahrain, Sudan, Oman, Morocco, and possibly Saudi Arabia — to follow suit. And if the UAE and those other states were then to enjoy the benefits of normalization with Israel – including cooperation in technology, trade, tourism, agriculture, medicine, solar energy and – especially – security matters, while being continuously denounced by the ungrateful Palestinians in ever more outrageous terms, their opposition to the Trump Plan might weaken. Israel might then be able to convince some of its new Arab allies that it made more sense for all concerned if Israel were to extend its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, which stands athwart the invasion route from the east, in order to better defend itself against their common enemy Iran. And the former already tepid support for the Palestinians might become – as the ferocious response on social media by Emiratis to Palestinian criticism already demonstrates – open hostility, thereby reducing Arab opposition to Israel extending its sovereignty to the main settlement blocs.

The Palestinians fail to realize just how low their standing has become in the Arab states, and how indifferent the Arabs have become to the “Palestinian cause” that once preoccupied them. There is simply too much else for the Arabs to worry about: civil wars in Libya, Syria, and Yemen; financial ruin and the state-within-a-state rule by Hezbollah in Lebanon; Sunni-Shi’a conflict in Iraq; the regrouped fighters of Al-Qaeda and Isis in the Sinai that threaten Egypt; the Muslim Brotherhood’s members who are a threat to the El-Sisi regime in Egypt and to the family monarchies of the Gulf; and over all, there is the looming threat of Iran, with its attempt to build a “Shi’a crescent” extending its power through proxies and allies, including the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Iran-backed Shi’a militias in Iraq, Bashar Assad’s army in Syria; Hezbollah fighters and bases in both Syria and Lebanon.

If the Palestinians continue to pour curses on the heads of the Emiratis, they will lose whatever modicum of support they retained in the Emirates, and the same loss of support for the Palestinians will become apparent in those Arab states that follow the UAE’s lead in normalizing relations with Israel, and finding themselves, consequently, as the objects of hysterical vilification by the Palestinians.

 “It was a major disappointment. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a golden opportunity that the prime minister missed because he lacked the courage,” said Elhayani. “He’s [Netanyahu] lost it. He needs to go.”

If it was, as the settler leader Elhayani claims, a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for Israel to extend sovereignty to the West Bank, does this mean he thinks that there will never be another chance to extend that sovereignty? Why? Netanyahu has always insisted he would need a green light from the Americans that has not yet been forthcoming; he did not deceive the settlers about this condition precedent to such annexation. Nor has he shown a lack of courage, or political skill, in his multifarious maneuvering to further Israel’s interests. As the Israeli commentator Ruth Blum has said, he is not playing checkers, but three-dimensional chess. His calculations are more complicated than those of the settlers who understandably think mainly of extending Israeli sovereignty over land. Netanyahu has also to consider how best to deepen relations with potential Arab allies who will join Israel in opposing Iran (whose threats preoccupy the Prime Minister), and who wish to benefit as well from all the advances the Start-Up Nation offers in a dozen fields.

That green light appeared to have been given by US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan released in January, which envisaged Israel applying sovereignty to its 120 settlements in almost a third of the West Bank.But when Trump announced the UAE deal this month, he said annexation was now “off the table.”

What did Trump mean when he said that “annexation” was now “off the table”? He meant, I’m now convinced, “off the table for now.” Netanyahu agreed. In an interview with the Abu Dhabi-based Sky News Arabia. He said “This was an American demand to suspend the annexation of lands in the West Bank for a [sic] time being, and we agreed.”

That’s an unambiguous statement, which he made to an Abu Dhabi audience for Sky News Arabia, that he had agreed to the American demand to “suspend the annexation…for a [sic] time being.” What could be a clearer indication that at some time in the future he intends to renew his attempts at “annexation”?

He has come round to the American view that it is imperative to first provide evidence of the many benefits Arab states will reap from closer ties with Israel, and only then, when those ties have become more solid, should extension of sovereignty – following the Trump Plan according to which 30% of the West Bank becomes a permanent part of Israel – be undertaken.

Part II here

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