A pair of prominent settler leaders lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday as his July 1 target date arrived with little expectation that it would include steps toward West Bank annexation as he had promised.
“[Former prime minister Menachem] Begin enacted sovereignty over the Golan Heights in one day [in 1981]. He passed all three readings [of the legislation] in the Knesset and gave no one any chance to oppose his plan. Unfortunately, with Prime Minister Netanyahu this is not the case,” Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan said in a statement.
“We have been hearing about sovereignty for a year and a half without things happening on the ground. Today turned out to be one big farce,” he added.
The chairman of the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors echoed the sentiment of frustration, rejecting the “excuse” recently voiced by Netanyahu’s associates that Defense Minister Benny Gantz has been working to block the effort.
“Tying the lack of sovereignty [announcement] to Benny Gantz is a pathetic excuse,” David Elhayani, who also serves as the chairman of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, told the Walla news site. He pointed out that the Likud coalition agreement with Gantz’s Blue and White party allows Netanyahu to bring an annexation resolution before the Knesset or cabinet without the defense minister’s go-ahead.
“In this reality, it is in the hands of the prime minister, who must accept responsibility for the decision, demonstrate leadership and say: ‘I have made this commitment to the electorate in two election campaigns, and I will stand by it,'” Elhayani said.
“Stop talking and start doing. There will always be an excuse why not to do it,” he added, admitting that he expected the fateful date to pass without a major announcement from Netanyahu.
Elhayani and Dagan are the leading figures in a plurality of the 24 settler mayors who have advocated in favor of Israel annexing large parts of the West Bank, but adamantly oppose doing so in the context of the Trump peace plan, because it envisions reserving the remaining territory for a future Palestinian state.
In various statements to the press upon the arrival of the July 1 date highlighted in the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal, settler leaders also appeared to acknowledge that the 30 percent that the prime minister had initially discussed annexing — all 132 West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley — was likely off the table.
One settlement mayor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel that talk of annexing the Jordan Valley had become a negotiating tactic that Netanyahu would ultimately forgo while instead settling for a more limited move.
Still, Elhayani told the Walla news site, settler leaders have sought to reach out to Evangelical leaders in the US in an effort to convince them to pressure the US president to back a version of annexation more favorable to the settlers than the one offered in the Trump plan.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman piled on, charging that Netanyahu was “playing everyone and has no intention of applying sovereignty.”
Speaking to reporters near the Bedouin hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar in the central West Bank, Liberman said that when he was defense minister, Netanyahu sent him a direct order not to raze the Palestinian outpost long slated for demolition. The leader of the right-wing, secular party went on to assert that Netanyahu had “lied” about annexation just as he had “lied” about his intention to “immediately” demolish Khan al-Ahmar.
“In the end, it [annexation] must be put to a vote in some forum — either the Knesset or the cabinet — so there may be a declaration [today], but it is not binding,” Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi told the Haaretz daily. Revivi represents a camp of at least nine settler leaders who have spoken out in favor of the Trump plan and argue that the compromises it requires of Israel are worth making in order to receive US backing for annexation.
The Efrat mayor acknowledged that the window of opportunity for the controversial move is quickly shutting, with the US presidential elections just four months away. He pointed out that any decision on annexation would have to come soon to give the Trump administration time to veto a resolution to condemn or sanction Israel in the UN Security Council.
Netanyahu met on Tuesday with US Ambassador David Friedman and White House peace envoy Avi Berkowitz, and appeared to indicate after the meeting that he would miss the July 1 target date. Berkowitz’s trip to Israel came after the Trump administration held talks for three days last week on whether to back an Israeli annexation, with a White House official saying no final decision was made.
“I spoke about the question of sovereignty, which we are working on these days and we will continue to work on in the coming days,” Netanyahu said Tuesday, meaning the groundwork ahead of the move would continue after July 1.