Likud top body votes to urge annexing parts of the West Bank

Resolution passed by Likud Central Committee is not binding, but carries political force, as lawmakers need support of 3,000-member body to succeed in party primaries

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Members of the Likud Central Committee vote in favor of annexing parts of the West Bank at the Avenue Conference Center, near Ben Gurion Airport on December 31, 2017. (Courtesy)
Members of the Likud Central Committee vote in favor of annexing parts of the West Bank at the Avenue Conference Center, near Ben Gurion Airport on December 31, 2017. (Courtesy)

The Likud Central Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, unanimously passed a resolution Sunday urging the faction’s leaders to formally annex parts of the West Bank and allow unlimited construction in the settlements.

The vote by Likud Central Committee is not binding on its Knesset lawmakers, but does carry political force as MKs need the support of the 3,000-member body to succeed in the party’s primaries.

The resolution reads: “Fifty years after the liberation of Judea and Samaria, and with them Jerusalem, our eternal capital, the Likud Central Committee calls on Likud’s elected leaders to work to allow unhindered construction and to extend Israeli law and sovereignty in all the areas of liberated settlement in Judea and Samaria.”

A number of party heavyweights have released statements or online videos expressing support for the vote, which took place at the Avenue Conference Center, near Ben Gurion Airport. They included Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.

Illustrative: Members of the Likud party central committee vote during a gathering of the Likud Central Committee in Tel Aviv in 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90/File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, long an opponent of such ideological declarations by party institutions, but eager in recent months to appeal to the party’s right-wing base, did not attend the gathering.

However “the gathering is taking place with his full knowledge. He didn’t try to delay or cancel the meeting,” assured the party activist website “Balikud,” which backed Sunday’s “historic” vote.

The keynote speaker at the confab was longtime Netanyahu opponent and former cabinet minister Gideon Sa’ar, also a backer of the resolution.

Sa’ar told attendees Sunday that he believed West Bank annexation would be come to be “in just a few years.”

“Therefore, let us, the Likud, be the ones that lead it!” Sa’ar said. “Our task is to remove any question mark that remains over the future of the settlement movement.”

Speaking with The Times of Israel, Likud activist Shevach Shtern explained that the party’s National Headquarters branch, which he leads, purposefully did not specify the parts of the West Bank it wants to annex.

“We are simply calling for Israeli law to be applied in places where there is settlement,” he said.

Seeking to play down the political ramifications of the vote, Stern sought to portray it as a practical measure, saying that the Israelis living beyond the Green Line — “tax paying citizens who serve in the army,” — are neglected by the government.

“We fall under the auspices of the Civil Administration (the Defense Ministry body that operates in the West Bank), which primarily serves the Arabs,” Shtern said.

The Shiloh resident argued that the Civil Administration is ill equipped the manage the daily affairs of settlers who are reliant on military officers, rather than civil servants. He added that much of legislation benefiting other Israeli citizens — such as labor laws — does not currently apply to those living over the Green Line.

Shtern acknowledged that the vote would not have immediate ramifications, but referred to the resolution as a “statement that the Likud is supporting this idea.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 25, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We don’t think it will happen tomorrow morning, but with time it will very likely be a reality,” he said.

The Hamas terror group said in a statement the decision represented “the continued harming of Palestinian rights under US auspices,” and said it would only lead to “more resistance.”

In 2002, the Likud Central Committee passed a resolution stating that the party opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state. Shtern conceded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on to endorse the very idea in his 2009 Bar Ilan University address in which he supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the Likud activist pointed out that Netanyahu has done nothing to act on that speech.

Sunday’s resolution marked the first time since the 2005 Israeli pullout from Gaza that party activists have gathered the hundreds of signatures required to propose such a resolution.

According to the party’s constitution, any such petition that receives support from over 20 percent of the Central Committee’s members requires the body to convene within 30 days.

While the petition had been filed in May, there had been a substantial delay in convening the meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-Likud ministers Moshe Kahlon and Gidon Sa’ar, January 8, 2012. (Flash90)

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