Annexation bill put off until after Trump-Netanyahu meeting

Ma’aleh Adumim has a population of close to 38,000 and is the third-largest West Bank settlement.

January 22, 2017 19:14
Netanyahu Trump

Netanyahu and Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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With an eye to coordinating steps with Washington, the security cabinet decided unanimously to postpone a discussion on annexing Ma’aleh Adumim until after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US President Donald Trump.

The two are expected to meet in the coming weeks, though no date has been announced.

The security cabinet also decided to hold another meeting on the settlement issue, and to discuss which policies on the issue Netanyahu will present to Trump, before their first meeting.

Netanyahu told the cabinet that Ma’aleh Adumim will be a part of sovereign Israel in any final arrangement, according to Channel 2.

“But it is not right at this time to take unilateral steps not coordinated with the administration,” he said.

Construction in Jerusalem will continue without any limitations, Netanyahu told the cabinet, and added that they would soon announce widespread building inside the settlement blocs.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), 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 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, “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.”

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.”

According to sources present 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 agreed to accept.

Akunis, Netanyahu said, would not have opposed the premier’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.”

The private members bill, which was presumed to have enough support to pass, was filed by the co-chairmen of the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus, MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi).

The caucus warned Netanyahu not to wait to long before moving forward on this “historic and natural step that has national consensus.”

“The time has come for sovereignty,” it added.

The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria said it was disappointed by the lack of brave leadership.

Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, who was in Washington to attend Friday’s inauguration, said he believed a vote by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation would not have impacted the relationship between the two leaders.

It is a preliminary vote of intent, he said.

It would still need three Knesset votes before it was passed into law and it would have strengthened Netanyahu’s hand in any conversation with Trump, he said.

“I do not understand why we had to delay the vote,” said Kashriel, who had sent the ministers on the committee a recorded message earlier in the day asking them to approve the bill.

While in Washington, Kashriel said he met with senators and congressmen and no one asked Israel to wait for Trump.

“Everyone embraced and supported us,” he said. “We should not be afraid, we should not hesitate here.”

Kisch concurred with Kashriel that it would be best for the ministers to vote now and then bring it to the plenum after the Netanyahu-Trump meeting.

Still, when Kisch spoke with Netanyahu on Sunday, he agreed to abide by the security cabinet decision.

“I will continue to lead together with my partners in the Land of Israel Caucus the process of imposing sovereignty over the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria,” he said.

Kisch has begun promoting a new plan for dealing with Judea and Samaria, in which Israel would impose sovereignty over the settlements while allowing the Palestinians to be self-governing over 39% of the territory, without obtaining full sovereignty.

Smotrich said the law to impose sovereignty over Ma’aleh Adumim will be legislated.

“We won’t wait much longer in order to complete this historic and natural process, when the consensus of the great majority of the nation is behind us... The time has come for sovereignty,” he said.

Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev, however, welcomed the postponement, but said the proposal was designed by “a group of extremists” and would lead to a bi-national state in place of a Jewish state.

“The true goal [of the bill] is to take the first step in annexing all of Judea and Samaria and turning Israel into a binational state,” he said.

“I’m in favor of independent steps to break through the rigidity of thinking that Israel is stuck in, not through dangerous annexation plans but with an Israeli initiative to separate from the Palestinians while maintaining security. Political processes should be motivated by Israeli interests and not by a bunch of extremists trying to decree political achievements by force,” Bar-Lev said.

Earlier in the day, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) told Army Radio that Israel should set the agenda when it comes to Judea and Samaria.

“We have to tell the American government what we want and not wait for orders from them,” she said. “This is a sympathetic administration. They want to know what we want to do.”

She noted that the Palestinians were taking unilateral steps against Israel, such the initiation of passage of the UN Security Council resolution against building in settlements and Jerusalem last month.

“There is no reason why we can’t take unilateral steps that will be right for Israel,” she said.

Now that Trump has taken office, rightwing lawmakers and settler leaders expect to see a new policy in Washington that is supportive of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

“The rules of the game have changed and you can’t play according to the old rules,” Shaked said. “We have to decide what is right for us.”

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