A lawmaker from the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party plans to introduce a bill aimed at paving the way to revive West Bank settlements that were demolished on the sidelines of the 2005 Gaza Disengagement Plan, despite calls from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to not make provocative gestures while the government builds its ties with the new US administration.
MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli said her proposed legislation would cancel a current law that prevents Israeli civilians from visiting the sites of former Jewish communities, all located in the northern West Bank, Channel 2 reported Monday.
Moalem-Refaeli’s proposal comes amid overt optimism from supporters of the settlement enterprise following the election victory of US President Donald Trump, who is seen by many in the Israeli right-wing as being more supportive of Israel and less opposed to West Bank settlements than the previous Obama administration.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and the Jewish Home party he leads have called the entrance of Trump to the White House the “death knell” of the two-state solution and have recently been pushing a bill to annex the large West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, that lies just outside Jerusalem.
In 2005, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon masterminded the unilateral evacuation of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and handing the area over to Palestinian rule, ending a 38-year Israeli military control of the territory. In addition to the eviction of thousands of settlers from the coastal enclave, hundreds of families were removed from Kadim, Ganim, Homesh, and Sa-Nur, four Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank that Moalem-Refaeli wants to see rebuilt.
The bill aims to cancel a prohibition on driving or hiking in the area of, or visiting the destroyed settlements, and notes that it is “an essential step towards reestablishing the settlements and the return of the settlers who were deported from there.”
Unlike the Gaza Strip, from which the IDF pulled out entirely, the army remains deployed in many areas of the West Bank, including the sites of the former settlements.
“The withdrawal was a political and security mistake, and even more of a mistake in northern Samaria where the IDF remains responsible for the territory and only the civilians were evacuated,” Moalem-Refaeli told the television station, using the biblical name for the northern West Bank region.
“Therefore, my bill seeks to cancel the law and return the civilian life.”
Coalition chair David Bitan supports the move as does the head of the Samaria Regional Council in the West Bank, Yossi Dagan, Channel 2 said.
“Just as there was no justification to destroy the settlements, there is no justification to prevent Jews from being there,” added Moalem-Refaeli.
Speaking to a meeting of his Likud faction on Monday Netanyahu welcomed Trump’s approach to Israel, but also indirectly took aim at his right-wing coalition partners for advancing the bid to annex Ma’ale Adumim, saying that “now is not the time for surprises.”
“We are facing great and significant opportunities for the security and future of the State of Israel. But they demand responsibility and discretion so that we don’t squander either the time or the opportunity,” he said. “Now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions, not the time for dictates, and also not the time for surprises.”
The cabinet on Sunday unanimously agreed to push off a vote on annexation of Ma’ale Adumim until after Netanyahu and Trump meet next month.
Since the evacuation of the four settlements, there have been repeated attempts settlement advocates to visit the sites along with calls to rebuild the communities.
In July 2015 security forces removed some 200 protesters from the site of Sa-Nur after they entered the ruins of the settlement to mark 10 years since its evacuation. Among those who took part in the reoccupation of the settlement were families who were evacuated in 2005 as well as rabbis, public figures, and MK Bezalel Smotrich from the Jewish Home party.
Marrisa Newman contributed to this report.