Updated Jun 29, 2020 - World

Netanyahu presses Trump by lobbying U.S. evangelicals to back annexation

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem in May. Photo: Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked evangelical supporters to lobby in favor of Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, via a speech Sunday night to the American group the Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

Why it matters: Israeli officials say Netanyahu thinks President Trump is politically vulnerable four months before the U.S. election and that he could lose to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. He thinks Trump needs the evangelical base to go to vote in order to have a chance at winning.

  • The prime minister expects evangelical leaders to put pressure on the White House to give Israel the green light for annexation.

What he's saying: In his speech to the CUFI virtual conference, Netanyahu said that the Trump plan gives Israel the possibility to annex the Jewish settlements of Beit-El and Shilo, both mentioned in the Bible as places of worship and religious miracles.

  • Beit El and Shilo are Jewish settlements located deep in the West Bank, isolated and surrounded by Palestinian towns and villages. Annexing them to Israel will make it much harder for the Palestinians to have a contiguous state of their own. Nevertheless, Netanyahu said annexing these settlements to Israel would not harm peace but promote peace.
"These places are an integral part of the historic Jewish homeland … but also an integral part of Christian identity. There are part of your heritage. Part of our common civilization and under Israel sovereignty our common heritage will be forever protected."
— Excerpt from Netanyahu's remarks to th the CUFI

Yes, but: While Netanyahu is counting on evangelical organizations for support in his annexation bid, some evangelical leaders are publicly voicing concerns about it. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas and one of Trump's evangelical advisers, told the New York Times that the evangelical Christian world is mostly indifferent to annexation by itself.

  • Joel Rosenberg, a prominent evangelical activist and author who is close to Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said if the annexation happens now, it would deeply damage the alliance forged by the Trump administration between Israel and the Gulf states against Iran.
  • Rosenberg also points to public opinion polls who show many evangelicals are opposed to Israeli annexation.
  • The World Evangelical Alliance, a global organization of evangelical churches that represents more than 600 million evangelicals worldwide, issued a statement last week and expresses "deep concerns over plans for Israel to annex large areas of the West Bank."

Of note: White House envoy Avi Berkowitz arrived in Israel over the weekend for talks with the political leadership about the Trump plan and possible annexation.

  • Israeli officials said Berkowitz met on Saturday with Netanyahu and on Sunday with senior officials in the prime minister’s office and the Ministry of Defense.
  • Berkowitz met on Monday with Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He is expected to return to Washington, D.C., and report to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Trump on the results of his talks.

Go deeper: White House meetings on Israeli annexations end with no decision

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