MKs to submit bill seeking annexation of West Bank settlements

Likud, Jewish Home lawmakers say legislation natural answer to Netanyahu’s talk of ‘unilateral steps’

View of the Jewish settlement of Efrat in the West Bank (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
View of the Jewish settlement of Efrat in the West Bank (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Orit Strock (Jewish Home) are expected to submit a series of bills on Monday seeking government annexation of Jewish sites and Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank.

The areas in question include Gush Etzion, Ariel, the Jordan Valley, Hebron, the South Hebron Hills and Ma’ale Adumim.

Strock and Levin explained that annexation was the natural answer to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talk of “unilateral steps” during his interview last week with Bloomberg in which he intimated that Israel may have to take unilateral action as an alternative to negotiations.

Netanyahu acknowledged during the interview that the idea of a unilateral withdrawal from the area was gaining traction across the political spectrum, but warned that Israel could not risk another Gaza, which was taken over by Hamas after Israeli unilaterally disengaged.

“Many Israelis are asking themselves if there are certain unilateral steps that could theoretically make sense. But people also recognize that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza didn’t improve the situation or advance peace,” he said.

Later Friday, Bennett said that he supported Netanyahu’s talk of Israeli unilateral action in the West Bank.

While it was not clear whether the prime minister meant annexing mainly Jewish-settled territory or withdrawing from mainly Palestinian areas, the Jewish Home chief made plain he was backing annexation: “I hear talk of ‘Israel’s unilateral actions’– I support that,” he wrote.

“We are pushing for applying Israeli law unilaterally over Gush Etzion, Ariel, the Jordan Valley, Ma’ale Adumim, Ofra, Alfe Menashe, the Ben Gurion Airport envelope, Samaria, Judea, and the rest of the Jewish settlement enterprise,” Bennett added. “It is time to do what is best for Israel.”

The idea was slammed Saturday by opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Calls by right-wing leaders to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank are both dangerous and delusional, Herzog said Saturday, adding that the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was to relaunch negotiations and finally determine Israel’s permanent borders.

“The extreme right is exploiting the leadership vacuum that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has created, and is now throwing into the ring dangerous ideas about annexing the [West Bank] territories,” Herzog said, according to Israel Radio.

“The only solution is a political process under which settlement blocs would remain in Israeli hands, and to determine the country’s permanent borders.”

The Labor Party chairman went on to criticize Bennett for his remarks.

“If Bennett thinks this is the solution to the political entanglement the government created, [he] is delusional and detached from reality,” Herzog said.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also slammed the idea, and said there would be no unilateral annexation so long as she was in the coalition.

The initiative to introduce legislation aimed at annexing West Bank territories has started to gain momentum since US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed late last month.

On Thursday, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced he would present a bill to redraw the lines of the Jerusalem municipality to include a number of West Bank settlements in a single “Greater Jerusalem” polity. The settlements to be amalgamated into Jerusalem under the bill include the city of Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, the Gush Etzion bloc, and Beitar Illit, containing in total a population of over 150,000 Israelis.

Earlier that day, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) called on the Israeli government “to start preparing” for the annexation of territories designated Area C by the Oslo Accords.

The most recent UN estimate, in March, put the figure for all of Area C at nearly 300,000 Palestinians, including 74,000 in East Jerusalem and 67,000 in the Hebron area.

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