Bennett conditions support for Trump peace plan on immediate annexation
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Bennett conditions support for Trump peace plan on immediate annexation

Defense minister says his Yamina party will ’emphatically’ reject a Palestinian state, calls for government to apply sovereignty over settlements next week

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett gives a statement to the media in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 26, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett gives a statement to the media in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 26, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-annexation Yamina party, said his party would support the US peace plan set to be announced this week in Washington — if it allows Israel to annex large swaths of the West Bank “immediately.”

In a speech in the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel, Bennett called the plan a potential “once-in-50-years opportunity to apply Israeli law to half a million Israelis next week,” a reference to Israelis living in the major settlements of the West Bank.

“They’ve asked us in recent days what Yamina’s position would be about the ‘deal of the century.’ Our answer is simple,” he said. “Annex, we’ll support. Don’t annex — we’ll oppose. If this whole event ends without applying [Israeli] sovereignty now, before the elections, with the American tailwind, then this won’t be the deal of the century, but the missed opportunity of the century.”

Bennett put the responsibility for that possible failure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“This will be decided based not on what is said there, but on what we do here, in Israel,” he said. “There have been dozens of [peace] plans, from the Rogers plan to the Wye plan, and words have been spilled like water. The only action that matters is the application of sovereignty…. The right-wing government will be judged not by how it fights with the left — but on the application of full sovereignty over half a million Israelis next week. Not words — actions. In a week, Ariel could be part of the State of Israel.”

Houses in the Israeli settlement of Ariel, in the central West Bank, March 25, 2019. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP, File)

It was not immediately clear how much territory Bennett would seek to annex. He mentioned his own proposal from the 2009 election to annex Area C, the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that is now under full Israeli control.

According to recent unconfirmed reports in Hebrew-language media, the Trump plan would see Israel annexing about half that much, or roughly 30% of the West Bank, while establishing a Palestinian state on between 40% and 70% of the territory, according to conflicting reports.

Bennett rejected the latter half of the purported plan.

“To remove all doubts, let me clarify: Yamina will emphatically oppose the establishment or recognition of a Palestinian state, or the conceding of a single centimeter of our land.”

Netanyahu on Sunday vowed to “make history” as he headed to Washington for two meetings with US President Donald Trump during which the White House is expected to unveil its much-anticipated plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters at Ben Gurion Airport before boarding a flight to Washington, Janaury 26, 2019. (Screen capture: Twitter)

“Over the last three years, I spoke countless times with President Trump — a huge friend of Israel — and his team about these vital security needs, about our security, about our justice,” Netanyahu declared. “I will meet with President Trump tomorrow, and on Tuesday, together with him we will make history.”

As he boarded his Boeing 777 en route to the American capital, Netanyahu contrasted his antagonistic stance toward the last US president, Barack Obama, with his strong alliance with the current inhabitant of the Oval Office.

“Five years ago, I went to Washington, to Congress, because I was forced to oppose a plan proposed by the American president, because I believed that this plan endangered Israel’s most vital security needs and indeed its very existence,” he said, referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Obama championed.

At the time, Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of the US Congress to advocate against the deal.

“Today, I am going to Washington to stand next to an American president who is proposing a deal that, I believe, advances Israel’s most vital security,” Netanyahu said, referring to a plan Trump has dubbed the “deal of the century.”

Netanyahu’s main political rival, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, also took off for Washington on Sunday for a separate meeting with the US president.

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz (R) meets with US Vice President Mike Pence in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2020. (Courtesy)

Both Netanyahu and Gantz are scheduled to meet with Trump, separately and privately, in the White House on Monday. Netanyahu and Trump are set for a higher-profile meeting Tuesday.

Gantz on Saturday announced that Trump had invited him to meet “in person, as the leader of the largest party in Israel.” It was previously believed that Israel’s de facto opposition leader was invited to join Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump.

Asked at Ben Gurion Airport whether he will endorse the plan or ask Trump to push off its release until after the March 2 elections, Gantz demurred.

“I’ll hear from him about the plan and exchange views, but what is done behind closed doors will stay behind closed doors,” he told the Kan public broadcaster.

The meeting, set to be Gantz’s first with the US president, will be closed to the press, Blue and White said on Saturday.

The plan, which Trump said he would release before his second meeting with Netanyahu on Tuesday, is expected to strongly favor Israel, and is unlikely to garner any international support if it is seen as undermining the prospect of a two-state solution.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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