Annexation Plans Prompt Firm Response from Top Pro-Israel Senators

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1. Strong show for the Jewish left opposing annexation

The debate over Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank has served the Jewish American peace camp well.

It’s been years since those on the political left of the Jewish-American organizational map (J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu and others) have had an issue they can rally their troops around, send a clear message and, most importantly, get results.

There has never been a shortage, of controversial issues, especially since Trump took office, but none of these issues really excited the base: Relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was opposed by peace groups, but more for its timing and lack of coordination than for the act itself; recognition of the Golan Heights didn’t really matter to most American Jews; and other Trump moves, such as cutting aid to the Palestinians, closing the PLO office or rolling out his one-sided peace plan, just didn’t pass the attention threshold while apocalyptic global and domestic events dominated the news cycle.

Israeli annexation of the West Bank, on the other hand, did resonate within the political system, and allowed for a tour de force of peace groups, proving that even in a Trump world, they still carry some weight.

The crowning achievement of this battle against annexation came in the form of two letters. One, published last week, was signed by 191 Democratic members of the U.S. House (out of 233 sitting Democrats). What makes this letter special is both the number of signatories, which is usually hard to achieve without the support of centrist pro-Israel groups and the diversity of members signing on. 

The second letter, published a week earlier, came from three of the top pro-Israel voices in the Senate: Democrats Chuck Schumer, Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin. These senators would likely never associate themselves with the peace camp or with left-of-center Jewish organizations, but even so, they penned a powerful appeal against Israeli annexation, which wasn’t all that different from the talking points sent out by peace groups. (Some 30 Democratic senators sent a similar letter earlier, at the encouragement of pro-peace Jewish groups.)

This doesn’t mean that the Jewish pro-Israel left is about to win its fight against annexation. But it does show that their voice is strong enough to sway staunch AIPAC supporters to speak out against the Israeli government’s line, and that, perhaps in a marginal way, they will make Netanyahu listen, if not to American Jews, than to pro-Israel American lawmakers.

2. Republican Jews (and Christian evangelicals) are on board with Bibi

Debating Israel’s expected move also helped groups on the right deliver a clear message that cemented their support for Trump and Netanyahu.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) launched a lobbying drive in favor of annexation, noting not only their support for the application of Israeli sovereignty over parts of the territories but also praising Trump for his peace plan, which “offers a realistic and implementable opportunity for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Sheldon Adelson, who is RJC’s major funder, also owns Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Israel Hayomwhich has been running articles and opinion pieces in favor of annexation. The Zionist Organization of America has been among the earliest and most vocal supporters of Israel’s move to annex parts of the West Bank.

Joining forces with these groups is Christians United for Israel, the largest Christian pro-Israel organization, which is holding its annual conference virtually this week. The group’s founder, Pastor John Hagee published an article last week, in Israel’s liberal paper Haaretz, advocating for U.S. support for Israeli annexation.

3. Centrists seek a non-existent middle road

While the planned Israeli annexation poses no dilemma for groups on the left and the right, centrist pro-Israel organizations are having a major oy vey moment.  

AIPAC has been trying to distance itself from the debate, taking no official position, sticking to its support for a two-state solution while remaining silent on annexation. The group has even gone out of its way to make clear to Democrats that it’s alright to criticize Israel on this issue, as long as they don’t take it too far.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) tried to forge a middle road by stating that annexation is a bad idea, but then said that “If annexation–the application of Israeli law unilaterally over portions of the West Bank–comes to pass, we will make the strongest possible case for a decision reached by an elected Israeli government and supported by Israel’s (and anyone’s) most powerful partner, the United States.”

It’s easy to see how torn AJC is on this issue. The group has just concluded an impressive virtual annual conference that brought together not only the usual suspects but also Muslim and Gulf leaders who found the organization a welcoming platform to show their growing ties with Israel and its supporters. No one understands better than AJC the international price Israel and its supporters will pay for annexing the territories, but years of siding with Israeli governments’ policy decisions have left the group no choice but to do so again.

The same is true for many centrists–they wish this whole thing would never happen, but if it does, they will–begrudgingly–side with Netanyahu. Again.

4. Will Trump weigh in?

The administration held a series of talks last week about Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank and reached no definitive conclusion regarding the U.S. response to the move. All Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had to say on the issue was that “Decisions about Israeli and extending sovereignty in other places are decisions for the Israelis to make, and we are talking to all of the countries in the region about how it is we can manage this process for our end-state objective.”

Then, Avi Berkowitz, the administration’s envoy in charge of Middle East peace, was dispatched to the region for a round of talks with Netanyahu and Benny Gantz.

But the big question that may be resolved this week still remains: Will Trump weigh in personally? Will he make a statement endorsing the Israeli move or trying to sway Israel from taking it right now?

As of Monday, Trump seemed far too busy with other emerging crises to pay much attention to the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

5. More on annexation

Feel like you haven’t heard enough about annexation? Join me for a Facebook live explainer today at 4 p.m. EST. You can ask questions live or send questions in advance to editor@momentmag.com.

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