Time to Lower Expectations

Maale Adumim
(Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

The argument for annexing Maaleh Adumim is compelling.

Though the international community and, until recently, Washington insisted on calling it a “settlement,” Maaleh Adumim is a modern city of more than 37,500 located just 4.5 miles east of Yerushalayim.

It is not disputed territory, since its size and location rule out any possibility of handing it over to the Palestinians. Think about it. The brutal, reckless “disengagement” from Gush Katif traumatized the country even though it involved “only” 8,500 people, located in far-away Gaza. And what ‘peace’ did it bring? An evacuation of Maaleh Adumim is simply out of the question. There is nothing to talk about for any Israeli government, not even the most leftist.

And so there is no reason not to make it official and annex the city.

And Maaleh Adumim is just the first course. Gush Etzion, a few minutes south of the capital, is also a no-brainer for annexation. A recent poll by the Smith Organization shows that 73 percent of the Israeli public supports applying Israeli law to this bloc, including a quarter of those who say they are Meretz or Zionist Camp supporters (among religious-chareidi voters support is at 95 percent).

And a strong majority of all Israelis — 67 percent — favor making all settlement blocs, including Ariel, part of Israel, and ending the Arab fantasy that these heavily populated areas in the heartland of the Jewish state will be relinquished if only enough pressure is brought to bear on the Israeli government.

The pendulum is swinging: from an international community that just a few weeks ago passed a resolution that Israel has no ties to the Kosel and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Yerushalayim, to an international community that will have to face the reality that what may have been on the bargaining table 50 years ago is no longer up for discussion. The Palestinians, in their inimitable manner, have once again shown that they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity (and the Obama-Kerry team was the opportunity of all opportunities).

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was right in asking the Cabinet on Sunday to put off any legislative action toward annexation before he has had a chance to sit and meet with President Donald Trump next month.

It’s understandable that right-wing elements in Israel, who have suffered eight years of political drought under the Obama administration, would be eager to drink from the fountains of understanding and goodwill that the new president and his team represent. But it’s not healthy to drink so greedily, so quickly. With all the goodwill, there needs to be a framework established that is built on solid understandings.

The last thing the Israeli right would want to do is to jump the gun and annex Maaleh Adumim, only to discover that the move left the Trump administration feeling blindsided, unable to trust its best friend in the Middle East.

On the other hand, PM Netanyahu mustn’t procrastinate. For the past eight years former president Obama has been his nemesis, but also his excuse for why he couldn’t build in Yehudah and Shomron, not even in Yerushalayim. The time for excuses is over. He was elected to lead, to put Israel’s interests first and then convince world leaders of the justice of its cause, not to be led and intimidated by Palestinian threats of war and bedlam if the United States moves its embassy to Yerushalayim.

As Deputy Minister Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, observed, “Those warning that moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will ignite the Middle East forget that it’s already ignited. Mosul and Aleppo won’t protest.”

Israel has many vital interests that Netanyahu will be discussing at length with the U.S. president next month. Topping the list will be restoring the trust and confidence between the two allies which was badly frayed in recent years. There is need to agree on a framework of intelligence-sharing on Iran and on suitable responses in the event that Iran crosses red lines. There is the need to work out a solution for Syria that doesn’t leave Israel facing Iran or its agents on its northern border. There is the question of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role in the region and the need to ensure Israel’s military edge at a time of increasing instability.

Given the precariousness of the situation — the missile threats from Lebanon and Gaza and the long-term Iranian threat — it is important that Israel proceed with caution. It must take the time to forge a solid relationship with Washington, based on trust and mutually agreed understandings, and prioritize its needs, in the understanding that no one gets everything, even with the friendliest of U.S. administrations.