Despite US pushback, Bennett determined to advance sovereignty over settlements

"I really think that the rare constellation of a right wing government, a favorable administration in DC and an international situation that enables it, should allow us to proceed."

February 13, 2018 09:00
2 minute read.
Despite US pushback, Bennett determined to advance sovereignty over settlements

Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett. . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Naftali Bennett, Education Minister and leader of the Bayit Yehudi party, said on Tuesday that he plans to push ahead with his plan to extend Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlement in the West Bank, despite the apparent objection of the Trump Administration to the move.

"The prime minister asked me not to raise the Sovereignty Bill [at the Ministerial Legislative Committee on Sunday] because of the security incident in the north and because of the discussions with the Americans until further notice," Bennett said in an interview with KAN Public Radio. " I agreed to hold off because of the security situation, but wanted to hear more about the situation with Washington. I maintain the right to raise it again next Sunday."

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Bennett called the current situation, in which longstanding West Bank settlements are not considered part of Israel, "absurd."  He said that it was his long-term goal to have Israel take full control over places like Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim and Ariel and wanted to know exactly where things stood opposite the US.

Contradicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Monday that private legislation bills were not the way to move ahead with such historic policies and that the move would require the full and official backing of the government, Bennett countered that in some cases the private bill path was the more effective one.

"I am determined to advance the issue of sovereignty [over settlements]. It is a plan six years in the making and I really think that the rare constellation of a right-wing government in Israel, a favorable administration in DC and an international situation that enables it, should allow us to proceed after 50 years," said Bennett.

Bennett made clear that while he doesn't think that the Americans have the right to veto Israel's actions, their position must be taken into serious account.

The US made clear on Monday that it opposes Israel extending its sovereignty, issuing a rare, scathing rebuttal to the suggestion by Netanyahu that the idea was even being discussed.

"Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false," White House official Josh Raffel said. "The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative."

The White House statement forced Netanyahu's office to issue a clarification, saying Netanyahu had only updated the Americans on proposed legislation in parliament.

The exchange of statements was the first public display of policy gaps between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, who so far has been a stalwart defender of the Netanyahu government's policies and actions.

Later in the day, the White House issued a readout of a phone conversation between Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, in which Trump said that "now is the time to work toward an enduring peace agreement."

Any proposal that includes Israel unilaterally extending sovereignty would face harsh opposition by the Palestinians and the international community.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said any annexation would "destroy all efforts to try and save the peace process." "No-one has the right to discuss the situation of the occupied Palestinian lands," Abu Rdainah said.

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