President Biden Must Make Clear That The Netanyahu Government’s Stealth Annexation is Wholly Unacceptable 

June 25, 2024

Recent comments made by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich confirm that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is steadily implementing plans for the effective annexation of the West Bank, as promised in its December 2022 coalition agreements between far-right parties.

In remarks to the settlement movement, caught on tape earlier this month and reported by the New York Times last week, Minister Smotrich outlined a “stealthy effort to irreversibly change the way the territory is governed, to cement Israel’s control over it without being accused of formally annexing it.” 

The far-right leader detailed how the government has transferred several areas of responsibility from the Israeli military to civil service employees reporting to him – transitioning from a decades-long military occupation and de facto annexation into outright de jure annexation of much of the territory. 

These steps constitute a key milestone for the settlement movement, which aims to push Palestinians from their land and lock in permanent, undemocratic control of the West Bank. As Minister Smotrich explicitly states, the goal is to foil the possibility of Palestinian statehood as part of a potential peace agreement. Such an outcome is entirely incompatible with the democratic society Israel’s founders envisioned, pushes a peaceful settlement to the conflict further out of reach, and will cement Israel’s increasing isolation on the world stage.

As Smotrich told supporters: “It’s mega-dramatic. Such changes change a system’s DNA.” Netanyahu is “with us full on” he said, after international outrage slowed the Prime Minister’s plans to annex vast swaths of the West Bank in 2020. 

These steps demand a response from the United States. President Biden has repeatedly stated his opposition to annexation of West Bank territory. Democratic lawmakers overwhelmingly opposed annexation when Netanyahu explicitly threatened it in the summer of 2020, with more than 190 members of the House of Representatives saying annexation would undermine Israeli and regional security while putting a diplomatic resolution to the conflict further out of reach. 

President Biden must make clear publicly that annexation by stealth is wholly unacceptable, contrary to Israel’s own interests, and will be met with meaningful consequences. Such moves constitute a direct violation of international law and risk further destabilization and violence in the West Bank and beyond. 

We note that the administration has rightly issued sanctions under an Executive Order to counter destabilizing actions in the West Bank. The steps outlined by Smotrich fall squarely within that order’s remit. We call on the Biden Administration to respond to these moves by applying the process established in the Executive Order to all relevant people and entities involved, and to take all further appropriate steps to counter acts of annexation by the Netanyahu government.