The last few weeks have seen the annexation debate in Israel turned on its head, with the organized settlement movement emerging as an unlikely pillar of opposition to the Trump plan. Leaders from the Yesha Council have agitated against the proposal’s implementation because it does not go far enough, permitting annexation of “only” 30 percent of the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state, albeit one that is only nominally independent. There have also been mixed signals from the Trump administration of late. Yamina, the dedicated pro-settlement religious nationalist party, was left in the opposition.

Amid this constellation of events, some have begun to ponder whether annexation remains on the agenda for Benjamin Netanyahu. Anshel Pfeffer has written several compelling essays in Haaretz to this effect. The prime minister’s Sunday announcement that Israel would “apply sovereignty” to all settlements on July 1 but that annexation would be postponed in the territory surrounding them is sure to fuel additional doubt about his intentions.

While there are some good reasons to question the specific parameters of Netanyahu’s plans, the broad thrust of the annexation skepticism amounts to hair splitting. The prime minister is behaving very strangely for someone who does not want to move ahead with annexation. Even if Netanyahu declines to act, in the past year annexation has entered the Israeli political mainstream and it will be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.

It is true that in the past that Netanyahu’s approach to more far-reaching expansionism has been relatively circumspect (while allowing creeping annexation to proceed apace). Having spent most of his time in the premiership alongside Democratic presidents in the United States, Bibi always had a convenient excuse for his tepid annexation positions: he would have loved to solidify Greater Israel, but the Americans left him no choice.

The Trump administration took this get out of jail free card from Netanyahu’s hands. US Ambassador David Friedman is perhaps more enthusiastic about annexation than the Israeli prime minister himself. If Netanyahu were truly interested in continuing to kick the can down the road, he would need to find a new explanation.

Enter Benny Gantz. While Netanyahu increasingly embraced annexation as a mainstay of his political platform during Israel’s three successive elections in 2019-20, the  general-turned-politician helming Kachol Lavan always seemed uneasy about the proposal. Gantz conditioned his endorsement for annexation subject upon such strict caveats (international approval; Jordanian and Palestinian coordination) as to make his support meaningless.

After the March election, Bibi outfoxed Gantz in coalition negotiations. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel helped to force the Kachol Lavan chief’s hand, and he joined the coalition, splitting his faction in the process. If Netanyahu were truly, deep down, opposed to annexation; if his revanchist rhetoric were only a campaign stunt, then this could have been his way out. The prime minister surely has no compunctions about throwing Gantz under the bus, and if Kachol Lavan attempted to block annexation from within the government, Netanyahu could easily have blamed his unreliable leftist colleagues. Instead, Netanyahu demanded both the rump Kachol Lavan and Labor factions adhere to coalition discipline when voting on any issue, including annexation.

The ongoing spat between some prominent settlement movement leaders and the prime minister could have given Netanyahu another off-ramp from the march toward annexation. With Yamina relegated to the opposition, Bibi’s coalition is less beholden to settler votes. If the Yesha Council feels some annexation is not enough, so be it: Netanyahu could easily blame the settlers and move on; his Kachol Lavan and Labor colleagues would hardly object and any unruly Likudniks would be brought to heel. Annexation could then drop from the agenda of a government that already has plenty to deal with in the realm of coronavirus and the pandemic-induced economic crisis.

Instead, Bibi is continuing to try to sell the Trump plan on the settlement movement’s unconvinced leaders. During a meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin reminded settler officials that the American proposal does not require a construction freeze in the settlements. The prime minister, who seems to understand the Trump plan better than his counterparts in the White House do, even zeroed in on the settlers’ central objection: the creation of a Palestinian state. What the Trump administration calls a state, Netanyahu pointed out, hardly merits the label, given its lack of control over its own borders, among other reasons (contradicting his own government’s messaging to Americans, including Democratic lawmakers). Without a green light for annexation from Washington, Netanyahu implored his colleagues in the settlement about the necessity of appearing in agreement with the US position.

This takes us to the next issue: the American position. What happens after July 1 may not encompass full annexation as envisioned by the Trump plan, but we need to ask ourselves whether we really believe this US administration, with its track record, would seriously oppose an Israeli initiative on annexation, especially if it falls within the bounds of the Peace to Prosperity plan. While it is impossible to know who has the president’s ear (or just how receptive Jared Kushner is to the admonition of his Saudi and Emirati WhatsApp contacts) on this issue, a public confrontation with Israel — popular among Trump’s religious right-wing base — seems politically inopportune, especially as the president’s popularity erodes amid waves of anti-police brutality protests in the United States, and with less than five months to go before election day.

Netanyahu’s most recent announcement — that in the immediate future, annexation may “only” encompass the settlements and not the territory and bypass roads in between — is sure to spur further annexation skepticism, as Netanyahu narrows the scope of his territorial ambitions. But this raises another question: with the uncertainties Netanyahu faces on the annexation front, and with his own criminal trial proceeding, why keep talking about annexation? After all, Netanyahu no longer has an election to win in the near term and his government appears to be fairly stable.

It is still worth considering what will happen if Netanyahu does not pursue any form of annexation, although I consider this to be a more remote possibility. Palestinians might stave off some of the worst consequences of Israel formalizing its rule in the occupied territories, which Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard documented in an editorial last week. Arab and European governments might even be willing to continue entertaining the legal fiction of separation between Israel and the West Bank, allowing Israel to avoid some of the worst diplomatic ramifications of annexation. Today, the Palestinian Authority Security Forces appear to be avoiding confrontation with the Israeli military despite the formal suspension of coordination between the parties in May.

But annexation is bound to pop up again in the future, whether under Netanyahu or some other leader. Adopted by the Likud, Israel’s flagship right-wing party, annexation is no longer just the position of small single-issue factions. Netanyahu’s release of a map detailing specific parameters for absorbing the Jordan Valley and endorsement of the Trump plan have helped to reinforce this. Those who are most likely to succeed Bibi at the head of Likud fall to the prime minister’s right politically. In the U.S., the Trump plan has become the Republican Party’s frame of reference for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the opposition to annexation remains fragmented. The breakup of Kachol Lavan is a blow that may take a while to recover from. Broad swaths of the Israeli public seem confused by annexation, vacillating between different positions when factors like U.S. support or the term “sovereignty” (ribonut) are introduced.

No one can say precisely what will happen on or after July 1, the earliest possible date for formal deliberation on annexation under the Likud-Kachol Lavan coalition agreement. What is clear, however, is that Prime Minister Netanyahu is leaving himself less room to maneuver as the first draws closer. And in the event Netanyahu manages to pull back, it will not be the end of the story, but a small victory for opponents of annexation in what is shaping up to be a very long fight.