Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that Israel must use a United Nations Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlement activity as a spur to effectively annex large parts of the West Bank, and vowed to push ahead with plans to introduce potentially explosive legislation to extend sovereignty to a large settlement near Jerusalem.
“It’s time to decide between two alternatives: surrendering our land, or sovereignty,” Bennett said, speaking during a visit to the Western Wall. “We’ve tried surrendering our land, it didn’t work; it is time for sovereignty.”
Bennett, who heads the right-wing Jewish Home party, has long proposed that Israel extend its sovereignty to large chunks of the West Bank, saying that a Palestinian state in that area poses a threat to Israel’s existence.
Speaking to Army Radio earlier on Sunday, Bennett said the Security Council resolution, which passed Friday after the US declined to use its veto, is a rallying cry and a prize to terrorists who want to harm Israel and that Jerusalem must respond, proposing that the Knesset vote to extend sovereignty to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, east of the capital.
“The way of the left has failed, now it is time to try our solution, sovereignty — taking the maximum territory with minimum Palestinians,” he said.
Most experts see Israel’s policy of extending sovereignty, as it has done in the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in moves widely unrecognized by the international community, as tantamount to annexation.
“The solution is to do what we did in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and extend Israel’s sovereignty there,” Bennett said. “We plan to soon bring a ‘Ma’ale Adumim first’ bill to the Knesset,” he said referring to the one of the largest settlements.
Later Sunday, he said the process of expanding sovereignty to Ma’ale Adumim and Area C of the West Bank — some 60 percent of the territory — would begin soon.
Resolution 2334 declared that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Bennett, whose party counts the settlement movement as a major part of its base, ran in elections on a platform of de facto annexation of the parts of the West Bank under Israeli civilian and military control under the Oslo Accords, and extending a type of semi-autonomy to Palestinians in the rest of the territory.
Ma’ale Adumim’s size and location makes it particularly important for both Israelis and Palestinians. Many Israelis see the settlement, home to some 40,000, as a suburb of Jerusalem and important to the defense of the capital from the east, while for Palestinians, its presence renders the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem almost impossible.
In July, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said he backed extending sovereignty to Ma’ale Adumim, and legislation has been introduced in the Knesset in the past, though it has largely failed to gain traction.
Israel has controlled the West Bank since capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War but has never moved to annex any of the territory beyond extending sovereignty to East Jerusalem. It later applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria.
Amid Israeli anger over the declaration and the failure of the United States to veto it, Bennett’s calls have begun to draw support.
On Saturday night, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan from Netanyahu’s Likud party also issued a call for Israel to annex the settlement blocs.
“We should make an effort to cut off all funding to the UN. We should announce the immediate annexation of the settlement blocs… We should renew construction throughout the land,” Erdan said.
It was a rare call for annexation from such a senior member of Netanyahu’s party, although Erdan is already on record supporting such a move.
His comments came as Channel 2 news reported that the prime minister could announce new construction beyond the Green Line when he convenes his cabinet for its weekly meeting on Sunday morning.
At the same time, a controversial initiative to authorize West Bank outposts — previously postponed until after President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House on January 20 — was put “back on the table” following the US’s failure to veto Friday’s Security Council resolution.
Fearing repercussions from the US administration, a final vote on the so-called Regulation Bill, which would legalize some 4,000 housing units in the West Bank built on privately owned Palestinian land, had been shelved until President Obama leaves office, coalition chairman David Bitan confirmed last week.
But with the US abstention in the UN vote, “We are done playing nice,” a coalition source told The Times of Israel Saturday night. “It’s back on the table,” he said of the bill, signaling it could be brought to a plenary vote in the coming weeks.
Bennett had earlier called the outpost bill the first step toward annexing the West Bank.