Right-wingers push annexation before elections, as Arab MKs warn of apartheid
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After release of peace plan

Right-wingers push annexation before elections, as Arab MKs warn of apartheid

Blue and White backs US peace plan but says Netanyahu, as a caretaker PM under indictment, cannot be the one to carry it out

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

A new housing project sign stands in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Ariel, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
A new housing project sign stands in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Ariel, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Israeli hardliners called on the government to immediately annex all Israeli settlements after the US published its long-awaited peace plan, while several left-wing politicians warned that the plan could lead to a form of “apartheid” control over the Palestinians.

Trump’s plan calls for the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in portions of East Jerusalem, but also allows for Israel to hold on to large chunks of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and where settlements are located.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would begin working to annex areas okayed as Israeli under the plan as early as next week, despite only controlling a caretaker government that is generally restricted from making wide-ranging moves.

Responding to the plan, the centrist Blue and White party said that the proposal “is entirely consistent with the principles of state and security espoused by Blue and White.”

Trump said Tuesday that party leader Benny Gantz, whom he met with a day earlier, had endorsed the plan as a basis for talks with the Palestinians.

“President Trump’s peace plan provides a strong, viable basis for advancing a peace accord with the Palestinians, while preserving the existing arrangements between Israel and Jordan and Egypt, and enabling their expansion to additional countries in the region,” the party said in a statement.

US President Donald Trump meets with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the White House in Washington on January 27, 2020. (Elad Malka)

However, a party official told The Times of Israel that it would not support any implementation of the plan before March’s election.

In its statement, the party noted that Netanyahu had been officially indicted in three separate corruption cases only hours earlier, saying he thus could not implement the plan.

Defense Minister and Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett called to immediately carry out annexation without hesitation.

“History is knocking at the door. Now, the battle moves from the White House in Washington to the cabinet room in Jerusalem — not postponing after the elections, and not settling for partial sovereignty — take everything, and now,” Bennett said in a video released shortly after Trump and Netanyahu’s statements in the White House.

According to Bennett, “The president told us tonight: ‘The decision is in your hands — apply Israeli law to all of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] immediately, now, in the next few days, and we the US will recognize sovereignty immediately.'”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett gives a statement to the media in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 26, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

But Bennett also warned: “To be clear, we will not allow the Israeli government to recognize a Palestinian state under any circumstances. We will not allow Israel to deliver an inch of land to the Arabs. That’s what we’re here for, guarding the Land of Israel.”

Netanyahu had touted the plan as “good for Israel and good for peace,” though it includes the creation of a Palestinian state opposed by much of his right-wing base. He promised to abide by the Trump plan, including its stipulation that Israel not build in areas designated for a future Palestinian state under the scheme.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, chair of the National Union faction within Yamina, also called for immediate annexation, saying, “Dare to win. We will continue to dare and with God’s help win more and more.”

But, like Bennett, Smotrich also said he would oppose any Palestinian state.

“We continue to oppose any kind of Arab sovereignty in the Land of Israel. We do not accept the American program but take the good parts of it,” he said.

US President Donald Trump (R) speaks during an event with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Shas leader Aryeh Deri released a statement praising the plan and saying that his ultra-Orthodox party would support “the immediate application of sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the territories of Judea and Samaria at the upcoming government meeting, as approved by the US government this evening.”

Saying that, “The right of the people of Israel to it’s land was given historic recognition tonight,” the Shas leader added that “the historic opportunity [to annex parts of the Biblical land of Israel] must not be missed and must not be rejected.”

Amir Peretz, leader of the center-left Labor-Gesher-Meretz union, said Israel’s future must be decided in direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and not via unilateral steps.

“We will determine our fate ourselves by direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, which will conclude with an agreement that will secure a Jewish and democratic state within safe borders for future generations,” he said.

Labor party leader Amir Peretz speaks in Tel Aviv, January 20, 2020. (Flash90)

Peretz added that the timing weeks before a national election means “there is no legitimacy for the government to carry out diplomatic moves, despite American backing, and must be dealt with after the election.”

MKs from the predominately Israeli Arab Joint List trashed the peace plan as a step towards potential apartheid rule.

“Like the separation policy in the southern US, apartheid, the Vietnam War and countless other stains on human history, the occupation will also end and the Palestinian people will live in an independent state alongside the State of Israel,” said Joint List chair Ayman Odeh in a tweet. “In the end, the just demand for equality and peace will overcome the surrender to supremacy and war.”

He also released a statement decrying a section of the plan that opens the possibility of transferring areas of northern Israel where Arab citizens live to Palestinian control.

“This is the inevitable end point of Trump and Bibi’s racist agenda: a green light to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arab citizens who live in northern Israel,” he said, using a nickname for Netanyahu.

But Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who has described Israeli Arabs as a fifth column and has called in the past for giving some Arab towns to a future Palestinian state, said he was happy to see that his idea was adopted in the plan.

A view of Wadi Ara (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen said in a statement that, “The American deal cannot be a ‘peace plan’ because it perpetuates the occupation of Palestinian lands and ignores the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people for self-determination. Thus, the plan will continue to perpetuate the conflict.”

“We in the Joint List call upon international community to reject this plan and to continue to support the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state according to the 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem and removal of the all settlements – which continue to be defined as war crimes according to international law,” Jabareen said. “Importantly, by accepting a state according to the 1967 border, Palestinians will be left with only 22% of the land of historical Palestine. This is an extremely painful compromise; Palestinians should not be required to accept additional compromises.”

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