Settler leaders Oded Revivi and Yossi Dagan are rebels with a cause on the edge of history, as Israel came closer than it has ever been in the 53 years since the 1967 Six Day War to applying sovereignty to portions of the West Bank.
Once in January, and again in July, the gates of destiny opened and closed on the settlement movement, as first US President Donald Trump, and then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dangled and then withdrew the possibility of annexing the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria.
The actual Trump offer, and his accompanying map for sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank, divided, rather than united, the pro-sovereignty community.No. 45: Christian Birthright >>>No. 47: The sword and the pen >>>
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There were those like Revivi who held that the Trump plan promised the best future, while those like Dagan believed it posed an existential danger to the state.
Out of the many politicians and activists, Revivi and Dagan stood out for the depth, power and persistence of their activity, which spanned the distance from their hilltop communities, through Europe and onward to Washington DC.
Both men have law degrees. Revivi, however, came to his post as Efrat Council head after working for years as an attorney. Dagan came from his perch as an activist, who had already experienced the personal pain of failed diplomatic policies when the IDF destroyed his home in the former Sa-Nur settlement. It was one of four settlements in northern Samaria that was forcibly evacuated in 2005 as part of the Disengagement plan, under which Israel withdrew from Gaza and destroyed 21 settlements there.
Revivi is more often found in a suit and Dagan in jeans, but they are both adept at welding power on the international and local stage.
The head of the Efrat Council since 2008, Revivi rose to prominence in the Yesha Council when it combated the no tolerance polices toward settlement activity that existed under then-US President Barack Obama’s administration. Revivi has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ear, and his fluency in English allowed him to advocate for the settlements with ambassadors and visiting diplomats. This included going head-to-head with former US secretary of state John Kerry at the prestigious Saban Forum, and an invitation to US President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Revivi and Dagan were among five settler leaders who flew to Washington for the unveiling of the Trump plan.
It “brought something to the table that was new, one of the most catching things, that no one would be evacuated from his house,” Revivi told The Jerusalem Post. The plan, he said, “drew the reality on the ground as to where Jews and Arabs lived today and from that it gave a vision of how to move forward,” he said.
The peace plan promised a future for the Palestinian people while safeguarding Jewish concerns. It was obvious to him in Washington the president’s vision involved the larger Arab world, and was not just limited to Israelis and Palestinians, said Revivi, who also supports Israel’s normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates, even at the price of the suspension of Israel’s annexation plans.
The deal, plus the UAE decision to rescinded its boycott of Israel, was a “game changer,” that effectively erased the Palestinian veto power” on Israel’s relations with the region, Revivi said.
Israeli law will eventually be applied to Jewish communities within Judea and Samaria, but within a larger context, he explained.
Trump’s map “is still on the table,” Revivi added.
It is precisely this map that has troubled Dagan, who has headed the Samaria Regional Council since 2015, after serving as its deputy head since 2012.
Dagan fears Trump’s annexation map would allow for the de facto destruction of 15 settlements as well as all the outposts. Even more worrisome was his concern the plan also supports the creation of a Palestinian state, albeit a demilitarized one.
In the past, Dagan has invested in bringing international politicians, including from the US and EUROPE, to visit Samaria and see for themselves the importance of the settlements to Israel. He has also traveled to Washington and Brussels to solicit support.
Dagan understood early on the important role of the Evangelical community in support for Judea and Samaria. He has pulled on that support in an attempt to influence US policy, while at the same time using his role in the Likud Central Committee to pressure Netanyahu.
Dagan has been a tireless campaigner for Netanyahu during the last elections, and was one of the first Israeli politicians to support Trump, whom he considers a friend of Israel. That has not stopped him from seeking to change Trump’s map or from campaigning against it, including with the Evangelicals. He has persistently pressured Netanyahu to authorize sovereignty now, even without US support, and has pressed him on what he fears is a de facto freeze.
Almost every day Dagan has released a statement on the matter or hosted a politician. In his latest attack, he warned Netanyahu “a true leader” of the Right would not exchange sovereignty for a shorter flight time over Saudi Arabia, such as allowed to Israel in light of the UAE deal.
“A national government doesn’t on one hand miss the historic opportunity for sovereignty and on the other hand freeze building [planning] as if we were under a Left government,” Dagan said.
Of Netanyahu, he said, “we expect you to be the head of the national camp not just before the election, but after it as well.”