Trump Set to Deliver ‘Big Announcement’ on Israeli Annexation

YERUSHALAYIM -
President Donald Trump applauds Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as they appear together at a joint news conference to discuss a new Middle East peace plan proposal in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28. (Reuters/Brendan McDermid/File Photo)

President Donald Trump will deliver a “big announcement” on Israel’s annexation, senior presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Wednesday night as White House officials met earlier in the day to discuss the nature and scope of Israel’s sovereignty bid in parts of Yehudah and Shomron and the Jordan Valley.

“There are conversations being had,” Conway told reporters at the White House. “Obviously, the president will have an announcement. He’s talked about this in the past and I’ll leave it to him to give you a big announcement.

“Let’s just see, because he wants to be an agent for peace in the Middle East and he’s trying to do that,” Conway said. “He has tried to bring peace to the Middle East in many different ways.”

At this stage of the deliberations, which as stated were still ongoing, Trump’s peace team doesn’t intend to stop Israel from implementing its annexation plan. With that, at this stage it still isn’t clear what the administration thinks should be the scope of the annexation and whether it will entail goodwill gestures to the Palestinians or other steps meant to temper the criticism from Arab counties, specifically Jordan.

Among those favoring Netanyahu’s plan are Trump advisers such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, and a number of Republicans in Congress. They say annexation, in addition to pleasing Trump’s base, would make a peace deal easier because that step would blunt what they believe are unrealistic Palestinian expectations for a future state, according to officials familiar with the matter. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a letter sent late Tuesday to Trump, seven GOP senators pointed to the president’s own peace plan, rolled out in January, which calls for recognizing Israel’s extension of sovereignty as simple reality.

“Mr. President, there is no other alternative to this fact-based approach, and as long as opponents of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship believe otherwise, peace will not be achievable,” wrote the senators, led by pro-Israel stalwarts Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

The letter also slammed U.S. support under the Obama administration for U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016 that denounces Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron.

Others in the administration want to see no, or limited, White House recognition of potential annexation. They include Pentagon officials and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the architect of the Mideast peace plan. People on this side of the debate worry that a robust public endorsement would alienate U.S. allies in the Middle East and beyond at a particularly sensitive time in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and threats posed by Iran.

Jordan, one of only two Arab nations with a peace deal with Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, a key U.S. partner in the Mideast, have come out against annexation and warned of severe consequences for the region if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu goes ahead with it. The European Union has voiced strong opposition and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said he hopes Israel will not proceed.

Apart from the foreign policy considerations, though, Trump must contend with domestic election concerns.

Yet it remains unclear how many votes might be swayed by a decision on annexation.

“Ultimately, the American position will be determined by the president himself, and he will certainly view this issue, like all others, through the lens of his re-election campaign. But it is hard to see how Trump can gain much electoral advantage at this stage,” said Jake Walles, a former U.S. diplomat who once served as consul general in Yerushalayim.

“While annexation should be popular with Christian evangelicals and the right wing in the American Jewish community, most of those voters are already in his pocket. It seems unlikely that the president’s position would change any votes in the United States,” he said. “In such a situation, with many other problems on his desk, he may prefer a more limited annexation … or perhaps even a deferral of the entire issue.”