Right slams halted annexation, settlers cry betrayal, as most pols laud UAE deal
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Edelstein, Regev say Likud must keep its annexation promise

Right slams halted annexation, settlers cry betrayal, as most pols laud UAE deal

Blue and White, Yesh Atid welcome Netanyahu’s Abu Dhabi breakthrough, but many settler leaders say it marks end of their trust in PM: Bennett: He missed a once-in-a-century chance

(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)

News of the US-brokered normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates was received warmly across much of the political spectrum in the Jewish state on Thursday, but the hard-right and settler leadership blasted the deal over its requirement that Jerusalem suspend its West Bank annexation plans.

The deal was first announced by the White House, which said the leaders of the US, Israel and the UAE “spoke today and agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.”

Israeli and UAE delegations will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security and the establishment of reciprocal embassies, it said.

According to the joint statement from Israel, the UAE and the US, Israel has agreed to suspend West Bank annexation plans in exchange for the normalization of ties with the UAE.

The news of normalizing relations was welcomed by Defense Minister and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, who praised all the parties to the agreement.

“This agreement demonstrates the alliance between countries in the region who are interested in prosperity and regional stability, and it stresses Israel’s eternal ambition for peace with its neighbors,” he said.

The establishment of formal relations with the United Arab Emirates opens the door “for additional agreements,” Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said.

In a series of tweets, Ashkenazi also welcomed the fact that Netanyahu’s planned unilateral West Bank annexation was suspended.

The prime minister’s spokesperson indicated that Ashkenazi and Gantz were not told about the deal in advance, saying that the prime minister had only updated the two on the agreement just before it was announced.

Benny Gantz (right) and Yair Lapid at the Knesset on November 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The breakthrough was also welcomed by members of the opposition.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called it “an important step toward normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates. This step is proof that negotiations and agreements, not unilateral steps like annexation, which would harm Israel’s security, are the way forward for our diplomatic relations. I thank President Trump for his support for this agreement.”

Similar sentiment was expressed by the leaders of the center-left Labor party, which sits in the government, and the left-wing Meretz party which is part of the opposition.

“[The agreement represents] the path of political negotiations for a comprehensive peace agreement that will lead to a comprehensive peace accord, which will bring about economic and political prosparity — and, of course, preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” said Labor head Amir Peretz, welcoming the deal while expressing hope that it would lead to a similar agreement with the Palestinians.

Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz said that the news proved “that the scrapping of annexation and [maintaining] the two-state solution is the way to regional normalization.”

But to Netanyahu’s right, such positive sentiment was not shared.

MK Naftali Bennett, who heads the national religious Yamina slate, opened his statement by welcoming the announcement, but went on to claim that Netanyahu had “missed a once-in-a-century opportunity” to annex large parts of the West Bank, as he had promised repeatedly to do throughout the past three election campaigns.

Then-defense minister Naftali Bennett at the Yamina campaign launch ahead of the general elections, on February 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“It is tragic that Netanyahu did not grasp the moment, nor did he muster the courage to apply sovereignty to even an inch of the Land of Israel,” Bennett added.

His Yamina colleague MK Bezalel Smotrich castigated Netanyahu for “the revival of the two-state discourse,” and dismissed the announcement as marginal, given that Israel had never been at war with the UAE.

Netanyahu’s chief rival in Likud, MK Gideon Sa’ar, said he welcomed the agreement, but added that “I will be emotional when we are able to apply Israeli law [over settlements].”

Miri Regev, center, visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi with UAE officials on October 29, 2018. (Courtesy Chen Kedem Maktoubi)

Two Likud ministers also indicated discontent. Miri Regev, who visited Abu Dhabi in 2018, said the agreement must not come at the expense of extending sovereignty. And Yuli Edelstein noted, “We promised Likud voters sovereignty, and we must stand by that.”

Settler leaders were much more fiery in their criticism, with the chairman of the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors saying Netanyahu had “betrayed” all Israelis living beyond the Green Line.

“Netanyahu has repeatedly promised the application of Israeli sovereignty in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. We had face-to-face meetings. He assured us that he was working on it, that this is the main political issue on which he was running in the election,” said David Elhayani in a statement.

“He led us astray. He led [the nearly] half a million residents of the area and hundreds of thousands of voters astray,” he added.

The mayor of the Beit El settlement Shai Alon accused Netanyahu of selling out his movement.

Settler leaders sit at their pro-sovereignty tent outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 4, 2020. (Gush Etzion Regional Council)

“They pulled a fast one on the settlers. Our future is in Judea and Samaria and in courageous decisions which our leaders will make. Not agreements that we sign today and are not worth the paper they are written on tomorrow.”

Efrat mayor Oded Revivi was the lone prominent voice beyond the Green Line who spoke in favor of the deal, calling the suspension of annexation a “proper price” for normalizing ties, while predicting a change in how settlements are perceived.

Apparently recognizing the damage the announcement might cause to his base, Netanyahu told reporters that he had not given up on his annexation plans. Rather, he simply had put them on temporary hold at the request of the Trump administration in order to see the UAE agreement through.

But settler leaders did not appear to buy the assertion that the shelving would only be temporary. “‘Postponement for a few months.’ Everyone understands that this is a cancellation,” said Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan.

“There is a limit to [Netanyahu’s] cynicism and there is a limit to how much one can deceive the public,” Dagan added.

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