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Meretz MKs warn plan to double Jordan Valley settlers imperils coalition

Lawmakers Mossi Raz and Gaby Lasky tell Housing Minister Elkin his drive to boost settlements is ‘far’ from what their party can agree to

In this February 10, 2020, photo, a woman walks in the Israeli settlement of Mevo'ot Yericho, in the Jordan Valley near the Palestinian city of Jericho. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
In this February 10, 2020, photo, a woman walks in the Israeli settlement of Mevo'ot Yericho, in the Jordan Valley near the Palestinian city of Jericho. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Two Meretz party lawmakers have warned Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin that his plan to double the Israeli population in the Jordan Valley will rupture the fragile government coalition, Channel 13 reported Sunday.

Elkin intends to seek government approval for a scheme to increase Israel’s presence in the strategic valley, the part of the West Bank and runs along the border with Jordan.

MKs Mossi Raz and Gaby Lasky wrote to Elkin that “we can no longer remain silent.”

“The strength of this government is the advancement of issues we can all agree. This decision is far from that,” they said.

They called on Elkin to “immediately stop the plan” and not bring it for government approval.

However, according to the station, though Elkin may not bring the plan to the cabinet in the coming weeks, or even months, he is determined to go ahead with it.

Housing Minister Zeev Elkin speaks during a press conference, presenting new reform on housing, at the Finance Ministry, Jerusalem, October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Elkin announced in October a plan to double the number of homes in the Jordan Valley, in order to reach 3,000 families living in the area by 2026. Elkin said at the time that his ministry plans to invest NIS 224 million ($70 million) to build 1,500 new homes in 21 settlements in the area. Those homes have yet to be approved by the relevant authorities.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a diverse coalition of left-wing, centrist and right-wing parties with deep ideological differences on some key issues, including Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.

The coalition gained a measure of stability last week when it passed the state budget ahead of a deadline that would have triggered elections. However, with just 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, it has only the slimmest of majorities that can be removed by even a single MK. Meretz, the dovish party furthest to the left in the coalition, has six seats in the Knesset. Elkin is a member of the right-wing New Hope party that also has six seats.

Meretz MK Mossi Raz attends a lobby meeting in the Knesset, on June 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last month, Israel advanced plans for over 3,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank, in the first such move by the new government which came to power in June. The move drew the harshest condemnation yet by the Biden administration which said it is “deeply concerned” over the development and repeated its opposition to settlement expansion.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken phoned Defense Minister Benny Gantz to voice similar objections regarding the scope and location of the settlement approvals, according to an Israeli official.

At the time, Raz vowed that Meretz would stop that plan too.

Meretz party MK Gaby Lasky attends an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Palestinians want the West Bank as territory for a future state and most countries consider Israel’s settlements there to be illegal.

A controversial peace plan proposed under the Trump administration to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict allowed for Israel to annex key areas of the Jordan Valley. Though Israel embraced the plan, it was rejected outright by the Palestinians.

The Biden administration sees the two-state solution as the answer to resolving the conflict.

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