Times of Israel Podcast

LISTEN: A week to annexation, settlement mayor not sure if her town’s in or out

US-born Aliza Pilichowski talks about not knowing whether Benjamin Netanyahu will apply full Israeli law over her Jordan Valley town of 3,500 next week — and other challenges

With the countdown on to the July 1 deadline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set for his government to begin annexing parts of the West Bank, The Times of Israel speaks with the mayor of Mitzpe Jericho, one of the towns potentially slated for annexation, about what’s happening on the ground ahead of the big day.

US-born Aliza Pilichowski heads the 43-year-old settlement of 3,500 people overlooking the biblical city of Jericho, the oldest continuously populated city in the world. It’s a “more than full-time job,” says 42-year-old Pilichowski — who is also a mother of six, rebbetzin or Orthodox rabbi’s wife, and interfaith hospital chaplain in her own right.

Despite the enormous impact annexation would have on the town’s security, civilian infrastructure, and economy, Pilichowski knows about as much as the rest of the settlement movement’s leadership and even the IDF top brass — which is to say, not much.

In fact, Netanyahu has held his cards unprecedentedly close to his vest on a move that would have some of the most far-reaching effects since the Jewish state’s 1948 foundation — if it indeed goes through.

The Jordan Valley town of Mitzpe Jericho is home to 3,500 residents. (Courtesy Aliza Pilichowski)

But what annexation — or applying Israeli law, or Israeli sovereignty, depending on who you ask — will entail is still up in the air. Netanyahu has reportedly presented Defense Minister and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz with four possible scenarios, ranging from applying sovereignty over a merely symbolic parcel of land, all the way up to a sizable 30 percent of the West Bank.

Netanyahu calls the move part of US President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, or the “deal of the century,” which aims for a lasting solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. So far, Trump has not strongly said anything to the contrary.

Pilichowski says that while the maps outlining Trump’s plan are not very clear, it would seem that Mitzpe Jericho would fall into the parcel known as the Jordan Valley bloc, which the plan would eventually place permanently in Israeli hands.

Annexation backers march in the West Bank south of Jerusalem, on February 27, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/ Flash90)

Even if annexation does go through, settlement mayors “have been briefed by [regional council head] Yisrael Gantz on his opinions of the Trump plan, but we haven’t been briefed on the ramifications” it would have on a “much more existential level,” Pilichowski says.

If one thing is certain, it’s that Pilichowski has her hands full even without considering the sovereignty plan. She’s currently overseeing the construction of 66 new homes as well as a new sewage line, while fighting the construction of a garbage-burning facility nearby that could negatively impact her town’s environment and quality of life.

Check out this other recent Times of Israel Podcast:

Annexation may be all spin; let’s focus on real issues, says Jewish Agency’s Isaac Herzog

Former Labor leader, opposition head, and welfare minister Isaac “Bougie” Herzog has played many roles in Israeli society. Today, he heads the Jewish Agency, and is in many ways the bridge between Israel and the Diaspora, while at the same time working to strengthen Jewish life around the globe. Does the prospect of annexation look to be a deal breaker in the relationship between Israel and global Jewry? Are there better things to be worrying about? Herzog gets candid in a wide-ranging discussion with The Times of Israel.

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