Did Trump Warn Israel Against Annexation?
Avigdor Lieberman told a meeting of the Knesset foreign affairs committee that the Trump administration “directly” warned Israel that if it annexed the West Bank this would cause “an immediate crisis” in U.S.-Israel relations. Lieberman’s remarks were a response to a Likud MK who called for immediate annexation of the Occupied Territory.
I have been asking DC-based reporters to query the White House or State Department about this claim. Frankly, I don’t believe it. Given in how much disarray the Trump administration faces on all fronts, I very much doubt anyone has the vision or interest to make a pronouncement on such a subject. Why would Trump even care at this point about annexation? It isn’t yet on the table in a serious legislative way in Israel.
Another reason it’s unlikely Trump levelled this warning is that it would mark a radical departure from his previous laissez-faire approach to Israel’s policy toward the West Bank and Palestinians. In fact, this AP story calls the supposed Trump directive a “major backpedaling.”
Haaretz weighed in on this issue with a report based on an interview with an unnamed “senior U.S. official” who refused to deny the thrust of Lieberman’s claim:
The American official didn’t deny Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s remarks …and stressed that the Trump administration is aware of the Israeli official’s statements. “We are not going to speak publicly about the details of private communications between governments,” the official said.
In light of this, it’s quite possible that Bibi asked Trump to do him a favor and save him from his worst enemies, those within his own coalition. And Trump was only too willing to oblige. The two had a phone conversation today, but the White House offered only the vaguest of references to the content of what was discussed. Trump’s call to Bibi apparently interrupted the fourth police interrogation of the prime minister on corruption charges.
My strong hunch is that this is yet another political bluff by Bibi and Lieberman to head off a move by the more extreme members of the governing coalition, especially Naftali Bennett, to promote annexation. It is one of the latter’s most important priorities. As we come closer to end of Bibi’s career, there is a major scrambling on the far right for the mantle of leadership. Bennett sees annexation as a winning formula to attrack far-right nationalist votes. The fact that a Likud MK within Bibi’s own Party was echoing Bennett in advocating the policy must’ve alarmed the PM. He feared increasing defections on his right-flank. So he created a fictional warning from the U.S.
It reminds me of a fight between siblings in which each side is at loggerheads and no one can win. So one sibling says to the other: “Daddy says I’m right. He said if you don’t do it my way he’s going to punish us both.” That appeal to a higher authority is what seems to have happened here. Netanyahu and Lieberman know that they cannot head off such domestic annexationist pressure themselves. So they invoke the only external authority who carries more weight than they do: Donald Trump.
A second element of this story is important as well. The MK who advocated annexation, Miki Zohar, made clear that his proposal would not offer annexed Palestinians full citizenship:
“The two state solution is dead; what is left is a one-state solution with the Arabs here not as full citizens,” he said, “because full citizenship will let them to vote for the Knesset. They will get all the rights like every citizen except voting for the Knesset.”
It would deny them the right to vote in national elections and restrict voting to local (municipal) elections. Even this limited right would be denied Palestinians if they refused military service. Given that they would not be equal citizens, it seems unlikely they would serve in the army. He admits as much here:
Zohar said that he proposed allowing full citizenship for those who fulfilled certain criteria to prove their loyalty to the state, such as joining the army. “I promise you: they (the Palestinians) won’t (want to) serve in the army, they will (prefer to) give up the option to vote. They won’t vote in the Knesset. They would prefer not voting and not contributing to this country, believe me,” he said.
The confusion of the annexationists is evident in this statement by Zohar:
“The Palestinians will have to choose if they want to be citizens with equal rights or not,” said Zohar. “They will be able to vote and be elected in their city under administrative autonomy and under Israeli sovereignty and with complete security control.”
Out of one side of his mouth he concedes “Arabs” would not be “full citizens.” Out of the other he says they could have “equal rights.” Clearly, those rights would not be “equal.” And even these limited rights would be denied them if they refused military service. This is a typically schizoid approach to the Palestinian issue.
Regarding the issue of military service, there is a contradiction in the manner in which it is applied to Jews and Palestinians. If a Jew does not serve he or she does not lose any rights. He or she may lose certain job benefits offered to military veterans. But they lose no citizenship rights.
Therefore, placing this burden on Palestinians would be racist and undemocratic. No democratic nation in the world places such restrictions on indigenous inhabitants. Nations like Burma and African countries beset by genocide and ethnic strife have done this. But Israel is loathe to be compared with such “backward” societies. If they seriously contemplate this, they should be fully prepared for the comparison.
Finally, annexation would create a de facto single state. It’s clear that not just the Israeli extreme right has problems defining the terms of such a state. The left, including the Palestinian left has a different set of problems with it. Most Israeli Palestinian parties reject one state. Curiously, they remain wedded to the liberal Zionist two-state construction:
“One state at this moment means apartheid,” Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of Arab parties in parliament, told foreign reporters Monday. “I think there needs to be great pressure for a Palestinian state to be established on the 1967 borders.”
The Palestinian Israeli and Israeli Zionist left rejects one state, even though there is no conceivable scenario left under which two-states could be realized. Odeh’s call for “greater pressure to create a Palestinian state” is a lone cry in the wilderness. It’s the equivalent of the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. It’s been sitting on the forest floor so long it’s a rotting log.
This renders the left irrelevant politically. It is one of the reasons Israeli Jewish voters reject Labor and other parties supporting two states. No voter wants to support a party whose platform is unrealistic and unrealizable. Until the liberal Zionists and Palestinian left abandon two states, they will be fighting a losing battle and always remain an ineffectual minority.
It would be far better to call the right’s bluff. Force the PA to dismantle itself. Dare Israel to annex the Territories. Then, after it does, if the far-right denies Palestinians full rights, let’s have the fight on the international stage for the all the world to see. Then comparisons to apartheid South Africa will be indisputable. The world will be forced to take notice and take action. Not immediately, for sure. But over time, pressure will build and Israel will be forced to yield. That, as of now, appears to only viable path to real justice.
A bit of context is in order. Unlike some on the left including anti-Zionists, I am not someone who has always supported a one-state solution. I would rather, if circumstances permitted, let the parties negotiate their own choice for governance. But that has long seemed impossible and unreasonable. My own abandonment of a two-state solution was forced on me by Israeli rejectionism.
8 thoughts on “Did Trump Warn Israel Against Annexation? – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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In the Athenian democracy the demos were those who paid their taxes and served in the military as ephebes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athenian_democracy#Citizenship_in_Athens)…. So there is precedent.
Regarding supposed Trump’s warning…. I can imagine Bibi -begged- Trump to “please, please, please, please Mr. President, please warn me off from doing one-sided things”. Bibi, for all his faults (and few blessings), is a man of the status quo. do nothing. Strong rhetoric, yes, but he needs an external bogeyman (Iran, Trump’s warning) to get off the tree of his own rhetoric in order to do nothing…
If Bibi begged Trump to “warn him”, one could imagine a bemused Trump going “Sure thing Bibi, I’ll warn you, consider yourself warned”.
@ lepxii: Athens wasn’t a full democracy as we know it in the west since there were slaves. Women couldn’t vote either. Nor is any modern democratic state restricting itself to the definition of democracy as Athens defined it.
Perhaps a more apt comparison is with Sparta (especially in its relation to the Helots).
“The Palestinian Israeli and Israeli Zionist left rejects one state” – nope!! EVERYONE rejects one state!!
Except for Bennett who accepts a very different sort of one state, no one came forward with a series plan and vision to how that one state will work.
Sure it is a catchy phrase but it is as impossible as two state.
So no state then? Exit Israel?
@ Jim: You simply don’t understand. The status quo is an exceedingly frail reed. It cannot continue forever. Look at the Berlin Wall. It all will come toppling down on Israel sometime. The question is what will replace it. Since Israel offers no serious long-term proposal, it will be a one-state solution. The only question is what type of one-state solution. Again, since Israel is resisting with every fiber of its being, it’s likely not to have much say in the outcome. Which is sad really.
Not true. There are serious plans and visions about how one state could work. You just don’t want to read them.
RS: “Regarding the issue of military service, there is a contradiction in the manner in which it is applied to Jews and Palestinians.”
Sure is, and how this works is woefully misrepresented by the Israelis.
You will often hear it stated that Israeli Arabs are “exempt” from military service.
Under Israeli law nobody is exempt from being called up for military service, and when you receive a call-up you must front up for service.
That is true for Jews.
That is true for Arabs.
That is true for Druze.
There is no exemption. None. Zip. Zero.
But what the law does is grant to the Israeli Minister of Defence the absolute authority to decide not to call up any “individual or group” for…. well…. whatever whim takes his fancy.
It’s the “or group” part that grants him the authority not to call up anyone with an national identity card that contains the word “Arab”, and since the founding of the state every single DM has decided exactly that i.e. to decide that he doesn’t want any Arabs in his army.
But this must be stressed: he is making that decision on a whim.
The law allows him to call up Israeli Arabs, and if he did do so then the law says that those Arabs must front up for duty in the IDF.
The case of Israeli Druze illustrates this very well: for years Israeli Defence Ministers refused to call them up, and then one day he changed his mind. No legislative changes were required: he simply had to decide that, yep, sure, he wants them in his army now.
RS: “If a Jew does not serve he or she does not lose any rights. He or she may lose certain job benefits offered to military veterans.”
No, typically they don’t, and it has to do with the way in which they are handled differently to Israeli Arabs.
An Israeli Arab never receives a call-up for duty, and therefore never fronts up to serve.
A Yeshiva student is called up, fronts up for duty, and is then promptly sent home.
The former therefore hasn’t fulfilled the requirement for “veteran benefits” (they didn’t front up for duty, because they were never called-up) while the latter has (he fronted up for duty, even though he didn’t actually serve a single day in the army).
The latter therefore gets all the benefits, the former is denied them.