Netanyahu urges doubtful settler chiefs to get behind ‘historic’ West Bank plan
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Settler leaders leave sit-down unenthusiastic

Netanyahu urges doubtful settler chiefs to get behind ‘historic’ West Bank plan

In meeting with settlement mayors who oppose Trump plan’s Palestinian state, PM says he’s committed to talks with PA based on proposal, hails ‘opportunity’ to carry out annexation

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) meets with settler leaders in his office on February 25, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/File)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) meets with settler leaders in his office on February 25, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told recalcitrant settler leaders Tuesday they should get behind the “historic opportunity” to annex parts of the West Bank under the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Netanyahu also said he is committed to negotiating with the Palestinians on the basis of the US proposal, his office said.

The sides met at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Opposition from a majority of Israeli mayors in the West Bank to the Trump plan’s envisioning of a Palestinian state has crescendoed in recent days in a manner that has reportedly upset the White House.

Netanyahu told the settler leaders during the meeting that they were standing before a “historic opportunity to apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria,” according to a statement from the PMO.

“The Prime Minister said discussions with the Americans are still ongoing,” the statement added, in an apparent reference to the joint Israeli-US mapping committee that is finalizing the borders of annexation Washington will be prepared to accept in the context of the plan.

Settler leaders have lamented being left out of the loop of the committee’s meetings, asserting that the conceptual map presented by the Trump administration at the plan’s January unveiling results in 15 Israeli settlements becoming isolated enclaves encircled by a future Palestinian state — an entity whose establishment they fundamentally oppose.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-tourism minister Yariv Levin, during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Nonetheless, Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, who also participated in the meeting in his capacity as a member of the mapping committee, called on the settler leaders “to support this historic event.”

“The sides agreed to continue their dialogue,” the PMO added.

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020.

A statement from the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors was far more terse. “The meeting lasted about two hours, and we expect the dialogue to continue,” it said.

The settler leaders who participated in the meeting were Yesha Council chairman and Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman David Elhayani, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman and Har Hebron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damri.

In a statement of his own ahead of the meeting, Binyamin Regional Council’s Yisrael Gantz said, “We are at an historic moment, and we came here to make sure that moment strengthens the settlements rather than decimating [them].” He said he expected to receive more details regarding the exact parameters of the planned annexation and would not accept being left in the dark.

The five of them declined to speak on the record after the sit-down, saying they had agreed to a request from the PMO not to leak information on the meeting to reporters.

However, one source familiar with the meeting admitted to The Times of Israel that he “would not have characterized it as positive.”

Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz (L) gives an award to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an inaugural ceremony of a new interchange at the central West Bank settlement of Adam on December 11, 2018. (Yossi Zamir)

“It was a conversation between two sides that understand one another, even if we do not agree on all issues,” he said. “We passed along our concerns and [the PMO] explained the complications on its end.”

Responding to an Army Radio report that claimed the meeting was meant to serve as a reprimand after the settler leaders’ campaign against the plan angered the Trump administration, the source said that no such rebuke was made.

“Once upon a time, Prime Minister Netanyahu would invite all settler leaders to meet with him. To today’s meeting, he only invited a handful. The goal: An attempt to silence the screamers. Good luck,” tweeted Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, who has led a minority of West Bank mayors supporting the Trump plan, and accordingly did not receive an invite to the PMO.

Ultimately though, Revivi received an invite and met with the premier later Tuesday in what the Efrat mayor described was more important for “the message it sent” to the White House or the settler leaders opposing the Trump plan, that the premier was also sitting down with those who support it.

Revivi told The Times of Israel that exact details of the plan were not discussed in the meeting. “I’ve had enough conversations with the prime minister and with Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to know that the claims made by the other mayors regarding the maps are not true,” he added, referring to qualms made by the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors regarding the alleged dangers the US plan poses to the settlement movement.

The meeting came less than a day after four of the five settler leaders were hosted by the Yamina party for a faction meeting at the Knesset. There the sides affirmed that they would not accept US backing of Israeli annexation if it comes at the cost of agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state — two major tenets of the Trump plan.

On July 1 the coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White allows Netanyahu to begin advancing annexation measures either in the Knesset or the cabinet.

(From L-R) Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett stand in front of a map created by the Yesha Council, purporting to show the exact borders of the Palestinian state envisioned by the Trump plan, during a Yamina faction meeting in the Knesset on June 1, 2020. (Courtesy)

The Yesha Council’s decision to team up with Yamina, which has been increasingly critical of Netanyahu since bolting to the opposition last month, raised eyebrows among some analysts, who speculated that the move would not sit well with the Likud leader.

Last week, Netanyahu dismissed fears increasingly expressed by settler leaders regarding the US peace plan’s vision for the West Bank, claiming, during an interview with the national religious Makor Rishon newspaper, that “people are talking about the plan without knowing it.”

For their part, the settlers insist that until Tuesday, Netanyahu had refused to meet with them.

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