PM blocks settlement annexation bill from coming to vote

Netanyahu wants to coordinate the measure with White House first, but bill will still be debated by coalition leaders in their own meeting slated for Sunday

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the press during a visit in Har Homa, in East Jerusalem on March 16, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the press during a visit in Har Homa, in East Jerusalem on March 16, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday pulled legislation aimed at annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank that was slated to come before a key ministerial committee for a vote next week.

A spokesman for a senior member on the Ministerial Committee for Legislation told The Times of Israel that the prime minister wants to coordinate the measure with the White House first, but that the bill would still be debated by coalition leaders in their own meeting scheduled to take place on Sunday.

The proposal, drafted by Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) seeks to apply Israeli sovereignty over all areas of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, which are currently under military rule.

“In the 70th year of the rebirth of the State of Israel and after the 50th anniversary of the return of the Jewish people to its historic homeland in Judea and Samaria (West Bank)…we move to designate the status of these territories as an inseparable part of the sovereign State of Israel,” the legislation reads.

A view of construction in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on January 26, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The measure comes just over a month after the top Likud Central Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, unanimously adopted a similar resolution which called on its members to act toward achieving West Bank annexation.

Netanyahu’s decision to delay the legislation is likely to cause a rift with various government ministers as well as settler leaders who have been aggressively campaigning for such a proposal.

Eighteen West Bank council chairman signed a letter Thursday organized by the Yesha settlement umbrella council calling on the prime minister to advance Kisch and Smotrich’s legislation.

“We recognize your historic opportunity to lead this important step, and ask that you allow the bill to be discussed and approved at the upcoming Ministerial Committee for Legislation meeting,” the letter stated. Just hours after it was published, Netanyahu was said to have ordered the freezing of the proposal.

Settler leaders pose for a photo outside the Prime Minister’s Office following their meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu on June 7, 2017. From R-L, Gush Etzion Regional Council Chairman Shlomo Ne’eman, Ma’ale Adumim Mayor Benny Kasriel, Beit El Local Council Chairman Shai Alon, Yesha Council Chairman Avi Roeh, Karnei Shomron mayor Yigal Lahav, Yesha Council Director General Shiloh Adler, Elkana Mayor Asaf Mintzer, and Kiryat Arba Local Council Head Malachi Levinger. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Nevertheless, settler leaders are confident that such a proposal has never had a higher likelihood for being adopted. “Now more than ever, the conditions are ripe to apply sovereignty over Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley,” Yesha Director-General Shiloh Adler told The Times of Israel.

Adler explained that “the timing of a decent American administration, the hypocrisy of Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas), who is once again embarking on a process of unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, and the right-wing government provides a wonderful opportunity for this move.”

But Netanyahu’s decision to halt the advancement of such a measure is nothing new. Among previous legislation that the prime minister has prevented from coming to a vote has included a proposal to annex the Jordan Valley, as well as one to annex the city-settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. This in addition to a bill to absorb major settlements into Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, which was frozen in October.

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli from the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party speaks in front of the Knesset. October 31, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In each of those cases, the prime minister’s office cited a desire to avoid confrontation with Washington, whether it was former president Barack Obama or current President Donald Trump at the helm.

However, government members appear to be losing patience on the matter after several failed legislative attempts at annexation.

“I feel that we are at a point in time when it is clear to all the ministers in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation that this proposal has to be passed,” said Jewish Home lawmaker Shuli Mualem-Refaeli while speaking at a Tuesday conference of national religious leaders.

“In the next six months, this is our main task,” she says. “Otherwise, I’m not sure we have a reason to remain in this government.”

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