Labor head: West Bank annexation would be a ‘diplomatic terror attack’

Gabbay lauds delay of bill that would place settlements under Israeli sovereignty; charges PM allowing settlement construction in return for support in corruption probes

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Head of the Zionist Union party Avi Gabbay seen during a faction meeting at the Knesset on February 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Head of the Zionist Union party Avi Gabbay seen during a faction meeting at the Knesset on February 5, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Praising a postponement of legislation aimed at annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the chairman of the opposition Zionist Union faction, Avi Gabbay, said that, if passed, such measures were tantamount to a “diplomatic terror attack.”

“It is good that the absurd bill for the annexation of Judea and Samaria was removed from the government agenda,” Gabbay said in a statement, adding that its passing would constitute a “diplomatic terror attack and a disaster for Israel.”

Hours earlier, the heads of coalition parties pulled the so-called Sovereignty Bill from the agenda of a meeting on the coming week’s legislative timetable.

The proposal, drafted by Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) seeks to apply Israeli sovereignty over all areas of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, which are currently under military rule.

“In the 70th year of the rebirth of the State of Israel and after the 50th anniversary of the return of the Jewish people to its historic homeland in Judea and Samaria (West Bank)…we move to designate the status of these territories as an inseparable part of the sovereign State of Israel,” the legislation begins.

A statement from the committee cited the weekend’s security incidents on the northern border as the reason for the postponement, as well as a need to coordinate the measure with the relevant diplomatic channels.

Construction of new buildings in the West Bank settlement of Na’ale on February 8, 2017. (Flash90)

The legislation will likely be pushed off until next week’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation meeting.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is a body made up of ministers from each of the coalition parties and headed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Normally meeting each Sunday, the powerful committee decides how the coalition will vote on each proposal brought before the Knesset and, by deciding on government support or opposition, can effectively decide the fate of a bill before it even begins the legislative process in the Knesset.

Separately, the heads of each coalition party also meet weekly to make decisions on the week’s legislative agenda and determine whether certain coalition bills face votes in either the Ministerial Committee for Legislation or the Knesset.

Last Thursday, a spokesman for a senior member of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation told The Times of Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pulled the legislation from its agenda in order to provide time to coordinate the measure with the White House first.

Gabbay said Sunday that he hoped the measure would not be raised again, “not because of the current escalation in the north, but because separation from the Palestinians is a clear Israeli interest.”

Labor chairman Avi Gabbay,left, and Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett speak on a panel moderated by Sarah Beck, center, in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 31, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

However, he expressed skepticism regarding the likelihood of such a scenario, lamenting a “settlements for corruption” arrangement that he claimed Netanyahu has with members of his government.

Gabbay argued that the prime minister had agreed to expand settlement building in the West Bank at the behest of the coalition’s more right-wing lawmakers in exchange for their support in the growing corruption probes against him.

“As long as Netanyahu is drowning in investigations, he will try to preserve the stability of the coalition and the silence of its members. For this, there is apparently no price he is not willing to pay,” he said.

On Tuesday, a report by Hadashot TV news said police are set to recommend pressing bribery charges against Netanyahu this week. Netanyahu is being investigated in two corruption cases.

In so-called Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) attends a briefing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) in response to the escalation of tensions along the northern border on February 10, 2018. (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

The prime minister denies any wrongdoing.

Gabbay, who was elected last July to head the Labor party as well the Zionist Union —  an amalgam of Labor and the Hatnua party — said earlier this month that he would promote a West Bank disengagement plan if he failed to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians as prime minister.

“It’s our generation’s responsibility to reach a solution. Not [US President] Trump’s. We believe the solution is two states for two peoples,” he told a crowd at an event in the central town of Nes Ziona.

At the same time, Gabbay has also made a number of seemingly contradictory comments asserting that no settlements would need to be evacuated in a peace deal, even those located deep in the West Bank where the Palestinians would ostensibly have their state.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed