Senior officials push annexation of large West Bank settlement

In first since taking office, deputy FM calls for ‘historic decision’ on Ma’ale Adumim; Palestinians: Israel not serious about two states

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

From left to right: Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, head of the Yesha Council Avi Roe (courtesy)
From left to right: Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, head of the Yesha Council Avi Roe (courtesy)

Senior Israeli government officials on Monday called for the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim, a large West Bank settlement east of Jerusalem, pushing for Israel to ignore the expected furious reactions from allies and foes if it were to enact such a move.

Chief among the officials calling for annexation was Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, a hard-line member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, apparently marking the first time she publicly pushed for the measure since assuming the diplomatic post in May 2015.

“The answer to the international struggle over Jerusalem is applying sovereignty over Ma’ale Adumim, which will guarantee Jerusalem will always remain united and develop,” Hotovely said in Jerusalem at a rally organized by the pro-settlement Yesha Council.

Her comments came as the government mulled a plan to relocate the embattled Amona settlement outpost in the central West Bank to a nearby empty plot of land, a move the Foreign Ministry reportedly warned Sunday could invite a harsh international backlash.

Israel has never made a move to annex land in the West Bank, but Hotovely said that 50 years after the country captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War, it was time for the government to “make a historic decision.”

Israeli settlements are “not a stepson but a firstborn and very important to the people of Israel,” she said. “Neither legal advisers nor international pressure will decide for us what is a fundamental issue.”

The sprawling suburban settlement, home to some 37,000 Israelis spread out over several hills overlooking the Judean desert a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem, is thought by most to be land Israel will retain in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

View of the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, in the West Bank, February 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, in the West Bank, February 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, Israeli plans to build there or in the neighboring E1 parcel linking the settlement to the capital regularly draw angry international condemnation as well as internal criticism.

Boosters like Hotovely see Ma’ale Adumim as key to linking Jerusalem to the strategic Jordan Valley, but critics say its location will effectively render a contiguous Palestinians state in the West Bank impossible.

The comments by Hotovely, who has in the past called for the annexation of the entire West Bank, spurred an angry response from Palestine Liberation Organization secretary-general Saeb Erekat.

“What was said is not surprising,” he said regarding Hotovely’s comments, adding that the Israeli government “supports settlements rather than a two-state solution,” as evidenced by home demolitions carried out Monday in the Jordan Valley.

“What this statement does, though,” Erekat told The Times of Israel, “is to reinforce the little respect that Israel has for international law and UN resolutions, the fact that ‘strong statements’ issued by international community has had little effect on Israel’s behaviour, and that it is overdue time for the international community comm to take practical steps in order to end Israel’s colonization, including to ban all settlement products, to divest from all companies profiting from the israeli occupation and recognize the state the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders.”

Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud), also participating in the Yesha Council rally, echoed Hotovely’s call for annexation.

“There are those who talk and those who act. We’re on the side of those who act,” Katz said, according to the Walla news website.

The head of the governing coalition, Likud MK David Bitan, said there was no reason why Ma’ale Adumin should not expand via additional housing units. “We will do this despite the international problems and despite American pressure. We don’t have to be afraid at all,” he said.

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In July, the US State Department criticized plans for 531 housing units in Ma’ale Adumim, triggering an angry response from Netanyahu.

“With all due respect, it is neither the construction in Jerusalem nor that in Ma’ale Adumim that make peace more remote,” he said at the time. “What prevents peace, first of all, is the constant incitement against the existence of the State of Israel within any borders, and the time has come for all the nations of the world to recognize this simple truth.”

The only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is by conducting direct negotiations, Netanyahu added.

“We are ready at all times to hold direct negotiations without preconditions with our neighbors; however, they are not prepared to hold them with us,” he said. “These are the two things that are preventing peace, not a few apartments near the city of Ma’ale Adumim, or several neighborhoods in Jerusalem.”

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