‘No, thank you’: Yamina, settler leaders defy Trump plan’s Palestinian state

Representatives from Yesha umbrella group of settler mayors join national religious opposition party for faction meeting, say they reject annexation if it leads to Palestine

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

(From L-R) Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman and Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, during a Yamina faction meeting in the Knesset on June 1, 2020. (Courtesy)
(From L-R) Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman and Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, during a Yamina faction meeting in the Knesset on June 1, 2020. (Courtesy)

National religious opposition party Yamina hosted prominent settler leaders during its Monday faction meeting at the Knesset, with the sides uniting in declaring their vehement opposition to the semi-autonomous, non-contiguous Palestinian state envisioned by the Trump peace plan.

Surrounded by members of the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett declared that “establishing a Palestinian terror state in the heart of our country would be an existential disaster.”

Yesha Council leader David Elhayani admitted that, as Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman, he has a great deal to lose in rejecting a plan that green-lights Israel’s annexation of the entire Jordan Valley, as well as all Jewish settlements. “And yet, I must say, ‘No, thank you’ to the Trump plan,” he said, because of its envisioning of a Palestinian state being established on the 70 percent of the West Bank land remaining beyond the Green Line.

But while Elhayani was explicit in his opposition to the Trump plan, Bennett was slightly more guarded.

“We do not yet know the details of the plan and the map. Is it sovereignty or Palestine? Once [they] are finalized, we will make a decision [as to our position],” Bennett said.

However, the plan quite clearly stipulates its vision of both Israeli annexation of large parts of the West Bank, along with the creation of a pathway to statehood for the Palestinians, if their leadership heeds a series of conditions.

(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)

What has indeed yet to be finalized are the exact borders of annexation that the US is willing to approve. A joint US-Israeli mapping committee has been tasked with finalizing these parameters. At no point, however, have US officials suggested that the plan’s offer of a state to the Palestinians is something that is up for debate, as Bennett appeared to suggest.

The Yamina faction meeting came exactly one month ahead of the date that the coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White sets forth for when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can begin advancing annexation measures either in the Knesset or the cabinet.

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.”

The premier insinuated that those on the right rejecting the Trump plan were similar to Palestinian leaders who in the past rejected peace offers “because they wanted everything, including Jaffa and Kfar Saba.”

The Yesha Council argues that in addition to its principal opposition to a Palestinian state, it cannot accept that 15 Israeli settlements would become isolated enclaves encircled by the Palestinian state, if the plan were to be realized.

Moreover, the settler leaders oppose the plan’s requirement for an Israeli building freeze in the areas surrounding settlements that are earmarked for a Palestinian state.

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman dismissed speculation that the decision to cooperate with Yamina was a politically motivated message to Netanyahu.

“I’ve been meeting with Likud MKs, with lawmakers from the coalition and from the opposition,” he said.

However, he admitted that the prime minister has refused to take a meeting with the Yesha representatives, who have been seeking to raise their concerns with the plan, but have been shut out by both the PMO and the mapping committee.

“We’re saying that there’s a problem here and [Netanyahu’s] response has been silence,” Ne’eman claimed. “We don’t want to talk to him through the media.”

As they have in recent meetings with right-wing lawmakers, the Yesha members came equipped with a blown-up map showing what they claim is the Palestinian state envisioned by the Trump plan in red.

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)

Elhayani admitted to The Times of Israel last week that the map is based on the conceptual version that was presented by US President Donald Trump at the plan’s unveiling in January. The administration has warned both sides against taking that map as final, noting that the joint mapping committee is still finalizing the details.

The Times of Israel reached out to several members of the mapping committee for comment, but did not receive responses. The seven-member body has not spoken on the record regarding its efforts since being formed, beyond vague closed-door statements stating that progress is being made.

Elhayani and Ne’eman are among what appears to be a majority of the 24 settlement mayors who oppose the Trump plan and who voted in favor of the Yesha Council resolution rejecting it earlier this month. But alongside that group, another camp has formed in recent months, made up largely of mayors of towns closer to the Green Line, who insist that the Trump plan represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the settlement movement.

One of the latter camp’s most vocal members, Efrat mayor Oded Revivi, issued a statement of his own on Monday praising Bennett and Yamina for their willingness to wait and see the exact borders of the Trump vision, “instead of succumbing to intimidation” from the Yesha leadership.

For his part, Ne’eman insisted that he and his colleagues were not looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration and believed that Washington would not object if the annexation legislation advanced by the government were to leave out any Israeli commitment to negotiating toward a Palestinian state.

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