Netanyahu memo: Evacuating settlements would pose ‘immediate existential threat’

Netanyahu memo: Evacuating settlements would pose ‘immediate existential threat’

In talking points sent to Likud MKs, PM’s office says annexation will bring ‘normalcy and stability’ to West Bank settlers, stays mum on Palestinians’ status

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plants a tree during an event for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, in the West Bank settlement of Mevo'ot Yeriho, in the Jordan Valley, February 10, 2020. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plants a tree during an event for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, in the West Bank settlement of Mevo'ot Yeriho, in the Jordan Valley, February 10, 2020. (Flash90)

The evacuation of settlements in the West Bank would pose an “immediate existential threat” to Israel, according to a memo sent by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Knesset members from his Likud party on Sunday.

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Times of Israel, lists several talking points to help lawmakers justify Netanyahu’s unilateral planned annexation of parts of the West Bank — namely all Jewish settlements along with the strategic Jordan Valley — in the context of the US administration’s peace proposal.

“There can be no realistic Israeli-Palestinian peace accord in which the Judea and Samaria Jewish communities are evacuated. These are established communities in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis live,” the memo reads.

“Relinquishing these territories would not only constitute a historic injustice; such a move would create an immediate existential threat to the Jewish state since Judea and Samaria border central Israeli cities,” it says.

Jewish settlements in the West Bank “constitute an integral part of the Jewish homeland and Jewish identity,” the memo reads.

Netanyahu’s planned measure would replace the current military regime in the West Bank “with Israeli law and civil administration in already existing Israeli communities in the territories so that those living there can be treated equally under the law like all Israelis,” it says.

“Applying Israeli law will provide normalcy and stability to the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Judea and Samaria. The argument against applying Israeli law implies that Jews would need to be treated as unequal or even uprooted from Judea and Samaria, thus ethnically cleansing the territories of Jews.”

US Vice President Mike Pence hosts PM Netanyahu at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020. The meeting was also attended by Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, left, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, right (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The memo’s existence was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Annexing West Bank settlements would lead “to a realistic regional peace based upon facts on the ground,” the brief document states.

“The US administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan, which Israel immediately accepted, is novel in its approach in that it is built on real-world facts instead of well-intentioned yet illusory concepts that may seem great in the abstract but have repeatedly failed to translate into progress,” it says.

Notably, the memo does not mention the fact that the US peace plan calls for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank that Israel would not annex.

While conditioned on many prerequisites the Palestinians are unlikely to fulfill, even the theoretical acceptance of a two-state solution has triggered vehement opposition to the White House proposal among many settler leaders and members of Netanyahu’s own party.

Most Likud MKs, while embracing the prospect of an Israeli annexation of some 30 percent of the West Bank, are staunchly opposed to Palestinian statehood. Seeking to calm his right-wing allies’ concerns, Netanyahu has reportedly said he would apply sovereignty without agreeing to a Palestinian state.

In a Friday op-ed for The Washington Post, however, Israeli Ambassador the US Ron Dermer explicitly endorsed the notion of Palestinian statehood.

“The extension of Israeli sovereignty to certain territories in Judea and Samaria will not, as many critics suggest, destroy the two-state solution. But it will shatter the two-state illusion. And in doing so, it will open the door to a realistic two-state solution and get the peace process out of the cul-de-sac it has been stuck in for two decades,” Dermer wrote.

Tourists visit the archaeological site of Tel Shiloh in the West Bank, March 12, 2019. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

The memo, which was approved by Netanyahu before his office sent it out, does not delve into the details of the Trump plan but rather rehashes often-made arguments about the Jewish people’s right to the West Bank.

“The territories are steeped in Jewish history, dotted with Jewish archaeological sites and constitute an integral part of the Jewish homeland and Jewish identity. Jews lived in these territories for centuries,” it reads.

“The Torah unfolds in the mountainous territories in which our forefathers and foremothers trekked, legendary Jewish kings ruled and biblical figures prophesied. The word ‘Jew’ itself originates with the Israelite kingdom of Judah, now referred to as Judea.”

Netanyahu’s planned move should not be called an annexation as this word “connotes the forcible acquisition of one state’s territory by another state. Israel is doing no such thing,” the document asserts. “Israel has valid legal claims to the territories while no other state claims the area.”

Applying Israeli law would not change the status of the Palestinian Authority “in a single Palestinian neighborhood,” the memo claims. “The Palestinian Authority will continue to maintain the same status in every Palestinian community and can initiate negotiations at any time based on the parameters established in the Trump plan.”

The memo does not explain what status Palestinians living on territories to be annexed would receive. According to various estimates, more than 100,000 Palestinians are currently residing in areas Netanyahu plans to apply sovereignty to.

In an interview last month, the prime minister said that Palestinians living under Israeli rule in the annexed Jordan Valley would not receive Israeli citizenship.

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