Naftali Bennett, leader of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, claimed Thursday that Israeli government policy will change with the arrival of the Trump Administration, and that from January 20, “Israeli government policy will be to annex Ma’ale Adumim.”
Asked on what basis he made the claim, Bennett, Israel’s education minister, answered flatly in a Channel 2 interview, “This is what government will be. From January 20, there’ll be a different policy in the government.”
Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest West Bank settlements, a city with a population of some 40,000, lies about five miles east of Jerusalem.
Housing Minister Yoav Galant, from the center-right Kulanu party, hours earlier rejected the notion that Israel would move to annex parts of the West Bank when President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
He rejected a call repeated by Bennett several times in the last few days to annex much of the West Bank in the wake of a Security Council resolution last week denouncing settlements on territory claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, including East Jerusalem.
In an interview with Army Radio on Thursday, Galant said he does not believe Israel will annex territories during the incoming Trump presidency, saying “I do not think it will come to that. I think that there are [also] other issues about which we should take a more moderate outlook.”
Bennett told Channel 2 Thursday that Israel must “do what [former prime minister Menachem] Begin did in the Golan Heights in 1981.”
When asked if he was suggesting Israel annex the entire West Bank, Bennett said: “No, my idea is to annex the areas where Israelis live, and [give] autonomy where they [the Palestinians] live.”
Bennett has frequently called to annex the 60% of the West Bank, Area C, where Israel maintains security and civilian control and where most settlements are located.
On Sunday, two days after the anti-settlements resolution was passed with a US abstention — a move that incensed Israel — Bennett said “no resolution can change the fact that this land, Jerusalem, is our capital. And no people can be a conqueror in their own land. That’s why this resolution, like many of the earlier resolutions, will be thrown into the dustbin of history.”
He called on Israel to “reevaluate its approach” of giving up territory and supporting the formation of a Palestinian state.
“We thought this approach would gain us sympathy from the world, but instead we got tens of thousands of missiles from Gaza, thousands of Israelis murdered on the streets and one condemnation after another,” Bennett said.
He added: “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 announced in the statement that he would take steps to apply Israeli law to Judea and Samaria, the Hebrew names for the areas of the West Bank.
In a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on lawmakers not to publicly discuss annexation, saying that President Barack Obama may have other actions prepared to take against Israel on the Palestinian issue before he leaves office in three weeks.
Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have said that they look forward to working with the incoming Trump administration on reversing the UN resolution. President-elect Donald Trump has expressed views that are more in line with the Netanyahu government. Trump has made no express commitment to the two-state solution and has appointed an Israeli ambassador who, over the course of the presidential campaign, was outspoken on his belief that West Bank settlement activity was not an obstacle to peace and that Israel does not face a “demographic threat” to its Jewish character if it fails to separate from the Palestinians.
Trump has also pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Last month, Bennett met with members of the Trump team, urging that the future administration look at alternatives to the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including his own plan to annex some parts of the West Bank while giving Palestinians increased autonomy in others areas of the territory.
JTA contributed to this report.