Settlers hail ‘historic opportunity’ after report Trump won’t oppose annexation
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'We have to take advantage of this window of opportunity'

Settlers hail ‘historic opportunity’ after report Trump won’t oppose annexation

Channel 12 news says imminent US peace plan will recognize that all Israeli-settled areas in West Bank ‘will remain in Israeli hands under a permanent accord’

Israelis visit the northern West Bank settlement of Peduel on April 22, 2019. (Flash90)
Israelis visit the northern West Bank settlement of Peduel on April 22, 2019. (Flash90)

Settler leaders on Sunday hailed a TV report that said the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal will provide for all settlements to remain under Israeli rule in any permanent peace accord, and that the administration will not oppose the extension of Israeli law to all settlements.

“I call on the prime minister to immediately announce, following the  establishment of a government, that he will extend Israeli law to all the Jewish settlements as a basis for any offer that may come,” said Har Hebron Regional Council Chairman Yohai Damari following the report on Channel 12.

“We have to take advantage of this window of opportunity during the Trump administration in the wake of the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of the Golan Heights. Now it is time for sovereignty in Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

“We can’t miss this historic opportunity,” said Binyamin Regional Council Chairman Yisrael Gantz. “It is doubtful it will happen again.”

(From L-R) Likud MK Yehudah Glick, US Ambassador David Friedman and Har Hebron Regional Council chairman Yohai Damari at the US Embassy in Jerusalem on August 15, 2018. (Har Hebron Regional Council)

More than 400,000 Israeli Jews live in West Bank settlements, and the Trump plan will recognize that all those Israeli-settled areas “will remain in Israeli hands under a permanent accord,” the Channel 12 report said.

To that end, the report said, “the Americans will not oppose Israeli steps relating to the settlements.” Specifically, while the US will not explicitly back the formal “extension of Israeli sovereignty” to the settlements, or their “annexation,” the report said, it will not object to the “extension of Israeli law” to the settlements.

In the run up to last month’s elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised several times to variously “apply Israeli sovereignty” and/or “extend Israeli law” to all the settlements, and said he hoped he would be able to do so with American support. Sunday’s TV report said that were Israel to extend Israeli law to all the settlements, the US “won’t oppose, or will be okay with, or won’t make a fuss about” such a move.

Netanyahu is now expected to go ahead with just such a process, the TV report noted.

The report was unsourced, and did not include an American response. Administration officials have repeatedly dismissed ostensible leaks about the content of the much-hyped plan in recent months as unfounded and unreliable.

Netanyahu is currently putting together a coalition and some of his expected partners also urged action.

“The Union of Right-Wing Parties will continue to push for the extension of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria as we promised our voters and as it is right to do so,” said party leader Rafi Peretz. “The time has come for all the world to recognize our historic right to Judea and Samaria.”

By way of precedent, Israel in 1981 extended Israeli law to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967. Seven weeks ago at a White House ceremony, with Netanyahu at his side, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation declaring it “appropriate to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights” and that “the United States recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel.”

US President Donald Trump, seated, holds up a signed proclamation on the Golan Heights, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, standing center, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, March 25, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

The administration is set to publish its Israeli-Palestinian proposal next month, after Netanyahu puts together the multi-party coalition he is currently seeking to arrange. Trump’s senior White House adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has indicated that the plan will address all the core “final status” issues and serve as a detailed “starting point” for resolving the conflict. He has also indicated that it will not provide for a two-state solution — the traditional basis for attempts to resolve the conflict.

Sunday’s report said that under the Trump plan, major Palestinian cities and population centers in the West Bank would remain under Palestinian control.

While right-wing groups welcomed the report, Arab Israelis and the left warned it would lead to more bloodshed.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Hadash party, attends a Knesset session in Jerusalem, January 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/via JTA)

“This pact of extremists between Netanyahu and Trump will set the whole region alight,” said Hadash-Ta’al leader Ayman Odeh, adding that only a two-state solution could end the conflict. “They simply don’t want peace,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority has preemptively rejected the plan, which it has described as an effort by the US to compel the Palestinians to “surrender” their rights. The PA has been boycotting the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

In the days just before his April 9 election win, Netanyahu vowed to extend Israeli sovereignty to all the settlements — both major blocs and minor outposts — and flatly ruled out Palestinian statehood, which he said would “endanger our existence.”

“I am going to apply Israeli sovereignty, but I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements,” he told Channel 12 on April 6. “From my perspective, each of those settlement points is Israeli. We have responsibility [for them] as the government of Israel. I don’t uproot any, and I won’t transfer them to the sovereignty of the Palestinians. I take care of them all.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises in a Channel 12 TV interview to apply Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements, April 6, 2019. (Channel 12 news screenshot)

That promise came a day after he told Channel 13 news that he had told Trump he would not evacuate “a single person” from any of the settlements.

Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights had prompted Netanyahu to look into settlement annexation, sources close to Netanyahu said at the time. The timing of such a move, they said, would follow Trump’s presentation of his peace plan.

If the Palestinian Authority, as expected, rejects the Trump proposal, and Netanyahu says yes to it with certain reservations, the prime minister believes Trump “would give him backing and legitimization to annex or extend Israeli law to all West Bank settlements or at least some of the blocs,” the sources told Channel 13 at the time.

In an interview with Channel 13, he called Trump, “the best friend Israel has had” in the White House, and said the president respects his position, “as I respect his,” when he insists on something.

In addition to the over 400,000 Jews who live in West Bank settlements, another 200,000-plus live in East Jerusalem neighborhoods annexed by Israel after the 1967 war.

The prime minister’s stance flies in the face of Palestinian demands for statehood in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has taken an increasingly hard line against Palestinian statehood, having accepted the idea in principle in a 2009 speech.

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