Economy Minister Naftali Bennett will meet in the coming days with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and present a proposal to apply Israel’s sovereignty to Area C, beginning with the major settlement blocs, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The Bayit Yehudi chairman recently met with a number of cabinet ministers and senior officials of various parties to discuss the plan, trying to create a “united front” behind it.
During one meeting he said the recent breakdown in the negotiations with the PLO meant this was the time for Israel to put its own initiative on the table, and start to “move forward after 20 years of trying one track, which has met with no success.”
Likud Ministers Israel Katz and Gilad Erdan, as well as Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, have spoken recently about applying Israel law to Area C of the West Bank.
Bennett’s meeting with Netanyahu is part of “brainstorming” efforts the prime minister announced at the end of April to explore other “policy options” in the wake of the collapse of the talks.
He told the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun this week that he does not want the “status quo” to continue and is “engaging in consultations with my own coalition partners and with others, to see if we have other alternatives, because I think the status quo is not a good idea, because I don’t want a binational state.”
The Oslo Accords divided Judea and Samaria into three areas: Area A, B and C. Area A comprises some 18 percent of the territory, and was transferred to the control of the Palestinian Authority, which enjoys most governmental powers.
Authority in Area B, making up 22% of the territory, was divided between Israel and the Palestinians, with Israel retaining security control, and civil matters given over to the PA. Area C, comprising some 60% of the territory – including all the Jewish settlements – remained in Israeli hands.
There are an estimated 350,000 Israelis and 70,000 Palestinians in Area C. Under Bennett’s plan, the Palestinians would be offered full Israeli citizenship.
Bennett has presented his plan in recent weeks to foreign diplomats stationed in the country. The proposal includes removing IDF roadblocks in the territory left under Palestinian control, Areas A and B, as well as investing in infrastructure there and pursuing massive economic development.
Annexing Area C, Bennett has said, will secure Israel’s vital interests by creating a buffer zone for Gush Dan and Jerusalem. It will also preserve Israel’s “vital” national heritage sites.
According to sources close to the Bayit Yehudi leader, he will push forward with the plan regardless of whether Hamas and Fatah implement their unity agreement, and regardless whether Israeli-Palestinian talks start anew. Bennett, according to sources close to him, believes those talks will ultimately fail.
Europe and the United Nations – which have indicated they view Area C as vital for the viability of a future Palestinian state – have in the last few years increasingly focused on shoring up Palestinian development there, including with financial assistance.
One of the first steps Israel took following the suspension of the talks with the Palestinians when a Fatah-Hamas unity pact was announced was to freeze pending Palestinian construction in Area C.
In early April, even before the PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced his unity pact with Hamas, Bennett launched a public relations initiative for a plan called “Settlement Blocs First.” It calls for annexing Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim, Beit El-Ofra, Ariel and settlements overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport.
In a related development, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who headed the negotiations with the Palestinians, was expected to meet in London late on Thursday with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry met a day earlier in London with Abbas, in what were described as “informal talks.” Kerry is in the British capital for talks on Syria.