'We have finished making compromises. This is our land'

Settler leader: Trump plan’s building freeze in enclaves a ‘slow Disengagement’

Proposal allows 15 settlements surrounded by territory earmarked for Palestinian state to build within current footprint, but Binyamin mayor says clause amounts to death sentence

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz (left) and Yesha Council director Yigal Dilmoni speak to reporters in the Ateret settlement on June 16, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz (left) and Yesha Council director Yigal Dilmoni speak to reporters in the Ateret settlement on June 16, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

ATERET, West Bank — Settler leaders warned on Tuesday that the implementation of the Trump peace plan would mark a slow repeat of the 2015 pullout from Gaza, and a “death sentence” for at least 15 isolated West Bank settlements that the proposal bars from expanding beyond their current footprint.

Speaking to reporters from a lookout point in the Ateret settlement, one of the isolated hilltop communities the Trump plan envisions will become enclaves surrounded by territory earmarked for a future Palestinian state, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz said that such a restriction would make those communities unattractive to investors and stymie their ability to develop — “a death sentence,” as he put it.

Gantz was joined by Yigal Dilmoni, the director-general of the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors, which is leading a camp of 10 of 24 settler mayors who have launched a campaign against the Trump peace plan — despite its expected inclusion of a US green-light for Israeli annexation of all West Bank settlements as well as the Jordan Valley.

The settlers fundamentally oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state and say they are prepared to wait on plans to annex as much as 30 percent of the West Bank if it means agreeing to a plan that includes such a potential state.

Dilmoni said the clause barring construction beyond the enclaves’ current footprint during the four-year negotiation period is effectively a “building freeze.” Interpreting the phrase to mean only multi-story housing would be allowed, he said this would require settlers to demolish existing homes in order to build high-rise apartment buildings. But doing so, he argued, would require changing building plans — a process that takes years to complete.

“This will choke off communities,” he said, likening the effects of the clause to a “slow” version of the 2005 Gaza Disengagement, when Israel withdrew over 7,000 civilians from the coastal enclave.

Yesha Council director Yigal Dilmoni speaks to reporters in the Ateret settlement on June 16, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Reading from a translated version of the plan, Dilmoni also took issue with it granting enclave residents with “the option to remain in place unless they choose otherwise.

“This means that they want [those residents] to leave,” Dilmoni asserted.

Gantz added that even though the access roads leading to those enclaves will be under Israeli security control, they will run through areas under Palestinian sovereignty. This would mean a PA police officer would be able to pull over a speeding Israeli vehicle, an “uncomfortable” situation that he thinks his residents should not have to endure.

Given their clearly stated objections to the conditions outlined in the Trump plan by which the US would be willing to accept Israeli annexation, the settler leaders were pressed as to what price they would be willing to pay to see the action through.

Citing US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s support for the move, Gantz said he did not view US support for annexation as something that required sacrifice on Israel’s part. “To me, Netanyahu’s willingness to enter negotiations based on the Trump plan was the price.”

“We have finished making compromises. This is our land,” Dilmoni said plainly. “Now the time has come for us to receive.”

Vision for Peace conceptual map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020

He argued that Israel had already “given up” 40% of the West Bank where Palestinians live, which were turned into Areas A and B in the 1995 Oslo Accords and are under civilian control of the Palestinian Authority.

“If you want to make it even, give us 40% in Area C,” he said referring to the West Bank territory under Israeli control.

During an earlier briefing at the Psagot settlement designed to address the concerns of Trump plan opponents, Gantz lamented Netanyahu’s apparent refusal to take into account their concerns regarding the proposal’s conceptual map, released in January.

The White House has warned against taking the map literally, and has tasked a joint US-Israeli committee to draw up the final borders of the plan, but settler leaders — whom Netanyahu has not kept in the loop regarding the joint team’s progress — worry that the conceptual version is going to be largely similar to the final one.

Gantz said the Yesha Council has drawn up its own map that allows for roughly the same amount of West Bank territory to be annexed by Israel, but it includes within it all the major highways leading to the settlements. As a result, the remaining territory earmarked for the future Palestinian state is transformed from semi-contiguous to completely non-contiguous, which the plan’s architect Jared Kushner stressed could not be the case. Gantz showed the map to the reporters in the briefing, but asked that it not be photographed “so as not to ignite a debate.”

Asked if he’d be willing to accept a smaller scale annexation move than the one repeatedly promised by Netanyahu in recent months — of all West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley — Gantz said, “any time someone offers me sovereignty, I say ‘thank you.'”

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