In an apparent move to want to coordinate steps with Washington and not surprise the new Trump administration, the security cabinet decided unanimously to postpone a discussion on annexing Ma'ale Adumim until after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US President Donald Trump.
The two are expected to meet in the coming weeks, though no date has yet been announced.
The security cabinet also decided to hold another meeting on the settlement issue, and what policies on the issue Netanyahu will present to Trump, before the first meeting between the leaders.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is a member of the security cabinet, tussled with Netanyahu over the weekend about whether the bill to annex Ma'aleh Adumim should be advanced now, or whether it would be better to wait until positions are coordinated with Washington.
While Netanyahu advocated not surprising the US, Bennett was eager to press ahead, saying that Israel needed to take immediate advantage of the “new diplomatic era” that has dawned as a result of the Trump inauguration.
Bennett, before the weekly cabinet meeting, told reporters that “today a new era is starting in the American administration, and no less importantly, a new era in preserving Israel's security. I am convinced that all the cabinet ministers and Likud ministers will support extending sovereignty in order to prevent an Islamic State on Route 6. Sovereignty comes before politics, security comes before politics,” he said.
Netanyahu issued a response to Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting, saying that regarding the settlements, “there is no one more concerned about them than me or the Likud government, and we will continue to take care of them responsibly and wisely for the good of the settlement enterprise, and the State of Israel.”
At the Likud ministerial meeting before the cabinet, Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis criticized Bennett for making political capital over the issue, but then added that – as opposed to the prime minister – he is against a two state solution, and that this was also the Likud's position.
Netanyahu, repeating a position he has articulated a number of times over the last number of years, said that what he was willing to give the Palestinians was not a state in the full sense of the word with full authority, but rather a “state-minus,” which is something the Palestinians have not agree to accept.
Akunis, Netanyahu said, would not have opposed Netanyahu's position on this if he had understood what he was proposing.
Netanyahu laid out this position clearly in a speech three years ago this month at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“We don’t want to annex the Palestinians as Israeli citizens and we don’t want to rule over them,” he said at the time. “But the Palestinian state must be demilitarized, which means that certain signs of sovereignty need to be limited. The minute you demilitarize a state, you limit certain capabilities. That is necessary; that is the real Middle East.”
Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who also holds the Intelligence and Atomic Energy portfolios, laid out the principles in the Security Cabinet of a a far-reaching initiative he thinks the government should put forward.
Katz said that in light of the “complicated “ regional and global reality, Israel should initiate a widespread program that would included the following:
Building an artificial island off the coast of Gaza that would be linked by a bridge to Gaza and give the Palestinians an outlet to the world without endangering Israeli security. The island would include a port and both a desalination and power plant that would serve the Gaza Strip
The linking up of the country’s rail lines with Jordan that would serve as a land port that could be used by Sunni states in the east to transport their goods to Haifa, through the Jezreel valley. The Palestinian Authority, according to this plan, could also be hooked up to this statement as well, something that could have a significant economic impact.
The establishment of a Greater Jerusalem metropolitan area – similar to what exists in London and Paris – through expanding the capital's borders to strengthen the Jewish majority by extending Israeli sovereignty to settlements in close proximity to Jerusalem such as Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Gush Etzion and Beitar Illit. These areas would retain their municipal independence, but be a part of Greater Jerusalem.
A similar municipal authority would be established for the Arab Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the security fence, which today are cut off from all Jerusalem municipal services.
Katz's plan also calls for clarifying Israel's construction policies beyond the Green Line to the new US administration that would allow for building throughout Jerusalem, and would also allow for construction on state land within the municipal boundaries of the settlements in Judea and Samaria.
“This plan strengthens Israelis position and improves the situation in the region and does not preclude the possibility of negotiations or arrangements in the future,” Katz said. He made clear that he does oppose Bennett's plan of extending Israeli law to Area C, which would necessitate the granting of citizenship to 150,000 Palestinians who live there.
Katz presented the outline of the plan to the security cabinet, and a more in-depth discussion is expected to take place before Netanyahu goes to meet Trump.