Interior minister claims officials already prepping West Bank annexation

Visiting Jordan Valley, Aryeh Deri lauds Netanyahu’s ‘vital and historic mission’ ahead of unveiling of Trump peace plan; agencies won’t confirm if administrative legwork underway

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, second left, visiting the Jordan Valley on January 28, 2019. (Yaakov Cohen/Shas campaign)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, second left, visiting the Jordan Valley on January 28, 2019. (Yaakov Cohen/Shas campaign)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Monday that officials were beginning the administrative work required to implement an expected Israeli annexation of an unspecified part of the West Bank.

“As interior minister, I’m telling you that on the municipal side, we’re already starting to prepare the administrative work. There are many challenges that must be dealt with,” Deri said while visiting the Jordan Valley with members of his ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

The Jordan Valley is a key strategic region running north-south along the Jordanian border that has long been seen by Israeli defense planners and political leaders as the country’s preferred eastern frontier. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed repeatedly over the past year to annex the area, and is expected to raise the possibility in Washington Monday and Tuesday in his meetings with American officials, including President Donald Trump.

However, the Times of Israel could not confirm that any staff preparations had begun in the Interior Ministry, which oversees local government.

A view of the Jordan Valley (photo credit: heatkernel)
A view of the Jordan Valley. (CC-BY heatkernel/Flickr/File)

Officials in the Defense Ministry, the body officially in control of civilian matters in the West Bank, would not say if there were preparations for annexation underway there either, saying only that the question was “political.”

Deri declared his full-throated support for the annexation on Monday, saying, “We have come here to tell the nations of the world, the whole world, we are in the land of our ancestors, this is ours, and we are settling what is ours. With God’s help, we send [our support] to the prime minister, on his historic mission together with the president of the United States, who is a true friend, and hope we will be able to announce tomorrow before the whole world that this is our land.”

He said he wished Netanyahu “success in his mission, a vital and historic mission, and may all the noise around him not get in the way of this great mission.” And he urged the rival Blue and White party, “to take advantage of the opportunity, and ignore political considerations to support the prime minister and Trump.”

Netanyahu and his rival MK Benny Gantz were in Washington Monday for talks and the purported unveiling of the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace plan.

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

According to unconfirmed Israeli media reports apparently based on Israeli sources, the plan would curb Israeli settlement growth, initially hand Israelis and Palestinians about one-third of the West Bank each, promise recognition of a Palestinian state in Palestinian-held areas, and set in place a four-year “preparation period” during which Palestinians would — so Washington hopes — come around to the plan and possibly negotiate control of the remainder of the territory.

An Army Radio report Monday said Palestinian statehood would also depend on reconciliation between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza. Earlier reports have said the plan calls for Hamas to be disarmed and Gaza demilitarized.

In his Monday comments, Deri chastised the right-wing Yamina party’s “impatience” after its leader, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, said Sunday his party would oppose the Trump peace plan if it did not include immediate annexation of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.

“By trying to have it all, you could lose it all,” Deri warned, urging fellow right-wingers to “be patient, so we don’t miss this opportunity just for the sake of another headline. No one wants what is good for Israel as much as Netanyahu, and it’s important to know when to keep quiet. I trust Netanyahu very much. I don’t know the details [of the plan], so unlike some others, I’m not saying anything about it.”

On Sunday, Bennett said his Yamina faction would support the US peace plan — 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.

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

“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.”

The latest news reports about the plan follow a spate of sometimes contradictory reports in Hebrew media purporting to detail the content of the plan. On Thursday, for instance, Channel 12 TV reported that the plan provides for full Israeli sovereignty throughout Jerusalem, for Israel to annex all West Bank settlements, and for no significant “return” to Israel for the descendants of Palestinian refugees.

And on Friday, Channel 13 said Israel would retain overall security control of the entire West Bank under the plan, even if some form of Palestinian self-rule is established in parts of it. Channel 13 said the plan ultimately provides for a demilitarized Palestinian state in some 80 percent of the West Bank. That state would not be empowered to maintain an army and sign military treaties, and Israel would control its borders, further reports on Friday said.

Members of the Shas Knesset faction and local mayors tour the Jordan Valley together with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, eighth left, January 27, 2020. (Yaakov Cohen/Shas campaign)

Some Israeli settlement leaders were also wary, warning on Sunday that the Trump plan, if implemented, would see a Palestinian state established on some 70 percent of the West Bank, posing a potential security threat to the Jewish state.

Deri visited the Jordan Valley with all the members of the Shas party in the Knesset. Several West Bank mayors accompanied him.

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