In the lead-up to Israel's national elections last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, publicly floated the idea of annexation of the biblical Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria — or what most of the "international community" refers to as the "West Bank." At the time, some believed that Netanyahu, who had sometimes previously spoken of annexation but had never taken meaningful steps to act upon it, simply needed to court staunchly right-wing votes for his Likud Party and hemorrhage as few votes as possible to smaller parties aligned further to the right of Likud.
Jewish Telegraph Agency analyzed Netanyahu's flirtation with annexing large swaths of Judea and Samaria, finding a logical comparison to the United States' recent formal recognition of Israeli control of the strategic Golan Heights border region:
Netanyahu is in a close race for re-election and wants to shore up his base. During the last campaign, in 2015, he did that by saying he would not establish a Palestinian state. The annexation pledge takes him one step further to the right.
It’s a play to draw voters away from smaller parties that are running even further to Netanyahu’s right, like the New Right Party headed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, two of Netanyahu’s longtime frenemies.
The annexation promise also comes a few weeks after President Trump recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, another controversial (although less so) territory that Israel captured in 1967. Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, but no U.S. president officially recognized the move.
Netanyahu saw Trump’s Golan decision as a signal that annexation, in a broader sense, is kosher now.
Ultimately, Netanyahu was successful, and Israelis returned home yet again to the leader who has proven, above all else, that he knows how to keep Israel safe in a deeply turbulent region of the world.
But the popular prediction that Netanyahu was engaging in political posturing may turn out, in fact, to be wrong. As The Times of Israel reports today, Netanyahu has boldly doubled down in defense of annexation after some ex-Israel Defense Forces officers spoke out critically against the plan:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top lawmakers from his Likud party on Tuesday spoke out forcefully in support of extending Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, after a group of former senior security officials warned the move would endanger the country.
In a letter to Netanyahu first reported on by Channel 12, Commanders for Israel’s Security, which describes itself as a nonpartisan body of nearly 300 retired senior officers, urged him to hold a public referendum before making any moves to effectively annex the territory.
They said such a step would bring about the collapse of security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and strengthen terrorist organizations.
Netanyahu dismissed their concerns. Using the biblical Hebrew names for the West Bank, he wrote on Twitter that "swaths of land in Judea and Samaria are not just a guarantee of Israel’s security — they are also our patrimony."
Netanyahu also ridiculed the anti-annexation "Commanders for Israel's Security" group, jesting that the group comprises "the same 'experts' [who] supported the Iran nuclear deal and warned that 'Bibi [Netanyahu] is taking a wrong turn and ruining the alliance with America.'"
It is noteworthy that Netanyahu's defense of partial annexation was framed not merely in strategic, but also moral, terminology. The biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, Netanyahu claims, is the Jewish people's rightful "patrimony." Before he was recently shamed and slurred in vile fashion by leftist Palestinian activists, DePaul University Professor Jason Hill made a similar argument at The Federalist:
Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) have enjoyed joint rule by Israeli military government and the Palestinian Authority with around 98 percent of the Palestinians living in areas under jurisdiction of the PA. In such areas, the PA has destroyed the freedom Palestinians enjoyed under Israeli rule and their economy through kleptocracy, corruption, nepotism, and authoritarian forms of governance subject to none of the checks and balances that characterize Israel’s Knesset.
Jewish exceptionalism and the exceptionalist nature of Jewish civilization require an unconditional space for the continued evolution of their civilization. What’s good for Jewish civilization is good for humanity at large. Jewish civilization is an international treasure trove that must be protected. ...
Given Fatah and Hamas’s genocidal aspirations toward Israel and universal Jewry and, in the case of Hamas, of a global caliphate, a moral goal would be to reverse the potential sovereignty of every Palestinian movement in the region. It ought to force Jordan to re-revoke its citizenship status of the Palestinian majority in Jordan.