Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told his party’s lawmakers not to speak openly about annexing parts of the West Bank or building more settlements, warning of the possibility that outgoing US President Barack Obama could take fresh action against Israel.
Netanyahu made the remarks at a meeting with Likud ministers ahead of a special security cabinet meeting called in the wake of Friday’s United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
Netanyahu may be concerned that the Obama Administration, in its last days, will push for a UN resolution to set certain parameters of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian accord, Israel’s Channel 2 TV reported.
Netanyahu has fumed at the White House since the vote passed with Washington withholding its veto, accusing Obama of proposing and pushing the measure, despite the fact that all other Security Council members voted yes and US was the only country to abstain.
In a closed-door meeting with Likud ministers, Netanyahu asked them to lie low until President-elect Donald Trump, who is seen as more friendly to Israeli settlement building, takes office next month.
“Don’t come out now with statements about annexing territory and building in the settlements, because there may be another international move (against Israel) before the change in the US administration on January 20,” Netanyahu said, according to the Ynet news website.
“The issue is still hot, and we haven’t heard the end of this yet,” Haaretz reported him saying.
The comments came after several ministers, including some from Likud, called openly for Israel to push forward with annexing parts of the West Bank in response to the Security Council decision.
Speaking after the meeting with Netanyahu, Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi said Israel should refrain from taking unilateral steps, like annexation.
“It would be a great mistake to take unilateral steps, because this is exactly what we are opposed to,” he told Army Radio.
Israel has repeatedly argued that any agreement with the Palestinians can only be reached in the framework of direct negotiations between the two sides.
“We oppose unilateral moves, we say that our hands are extended to an agreement with our neighbors and so any steps that include creating facts on the ground or determining the status of Judea and Samaria unilaterally are not right,” Hanegbi said, referring to the West Bank.
But across town at the Western Wall, the holiest shrine in Judaism but determined by the UN resolution to be illegally occupied, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home raged against the UN measure and pushed for annexing parts of the West Bank, starting with the large settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
“It’s time to decide between two alternatives: surrendering our land, or sovereignty. We’ve tried surrendering our land, it didn’t work; it is time for sovereignty,” Bennett said. “In the near future we will take steps to apply Israeli law to Ma’ale Adumim and the rest of Judea and Samaria. It’s time for Israel to decide.”
On Saturday night, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan 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.
Addressing the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem earlier Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated his staunch opposition to Friday’s passage of Resolution 2334, which condemns Israeli settlements and all forms of terrorism and incitement.
“We have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated its versions and insisted upon its passage,” he said.