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PM strikes down Likud MK’s bill to annex settlements

By nipping Miri Regev’s proposal in the bud, Netanyahu avoids further embarrassment from the party’s right flank — and grief in the international arena

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

Likud MK Miri Regev in the Knesset (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud MK Miri Regev in the Knesset (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The government on Sunday struck down a proposal by a Likud lawmaker to extend Israeli law to the Jewish communities beyond the Green Line, a move that frees the government from having to face claims it seeks to annex parts of the West Bank.

Likud MK Miri Regev had submitted a bill that, if passed, would have applied Israeli law to all officially recognized Jewish settlements in the West Bank — tantamount to a de facto annexation of Area C, the Israeli-controlled West Bank territories. Currently, Israeli law extends only to sovereign Israel, the Old City and East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights — not to the West Bank. The Jewish settlements are held under military rule.

Regev’s bill — a rehash of similar proposals previously submitted to the Knesset — was discussed on Sunday by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs. Headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, the committee had the power to approve the bill and send it to the plenum for a preliminary reading, which would kick off the legislation process.

But it never came to that. At first it seemed that at least five ministers were in favor of the bill. But Minister Benny Begin pointed out the potential dangers of advancing it, and asked the committee members to let the cabinet deal with such issues. Neeman then asked for a 15-minute break to consult with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After speaking to Netanyahu, Neeman proposed postponing the vote by a month in order to coordinate with the government and the prime minister. But Begin protested this idea, saying that such a proposal would be harmful as it would make it appear as if the prime minister were really considering Regev’s proposal. “This bill is an unrealistic display, and for such displays we pay a heavy price in the international arena,” Ynet quoted Begin as saying.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor agreed, saying it was “delusional” to bring such a bill to vote “out of the blue without a serious discussion.”

‘We shouldn’t just think about the message this is sending to the nations of the world, but also about what message this is sending to the people of Israel’

Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, from the nationalist Jewish Home party,by contrast, supported the bill: “We shouldn’t just think about the message this is sending to the nations of the world, but also about what message this is sending to the people of Israel,” he said.

A heated debate ensued, and Regev refused to remove her bill from the agenda. However, after it had become clear the prime minister wanted to kill the proposal, nine ministers voted against it, five abstained and one — Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov of Yisrael Beytenu — voted for it. Ministers Limor Livnat and Gideon Sa’ar, who had initially voted for the bill, said they misunderstood and thought they were voting for Netanyahu’s proposal to push off the vote, Ynet reported.

Regev is not the first person to propose a bill extending Israeli law to the settlements. In fact, Netanyahu himself supported a similar proposal when he was opposition leader a few years ago. In the current Knesset as well, right-wing parties have unsuccessfully attempted to submit such laws. Regev’s bill attracted media attention as she was the first coalition lawmaker to advance such a bill. Yet some Knesset insiders saw her move merely as a political maneuver to gain the national spotlight ahead of Likud primaries.

For Netanyahu, the advancement of such a bill would have been interpreted as a further sign that he is losing control of the settler-friendly wing of his party. Last Sunday, he was humiliated by the Likud’s far-right at the party Central Committee meeting by being denied the right to preside over the party convention, which would have allowed him to take control of the party’s election procedures.

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