Netanyahu pledges sovereignty as cabinet approves new West Bank settlement

Netanyahu said it was one of three strategic steps he was taking in the last week before the election.

A general view picture shows houses in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the West Bank February 15, 2017 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
A general view picture shows houses in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the West Bank February 15, 2017
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Ministers gave their initial approval for the creation of a new settlement during a first-ever cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley, designed to symbolize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to annex all West Bank settlements.
“We will apply sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and the Northern Dead Sea as soon as the next government is established in the next Knesset,” Netanyahu told the ministers on Sunday as he sat under a white tent, set up especially for the meeting, next to the Jordan Valley monument for soldiers who died defending the area.
“Today I have appointed a working team led by the director-general of my ministry, Ronen Peretz, to formulate an outline for applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea,” Netanyahu said. He also promised to submit an extensive plan to develop Jordan Valley infrastructure and transportation.
It was Netanyahu’s last cabinet meeting before the election, and possibly his last as prime minister should he fail to secure enough votes to form a new government.
He chose a spot for the meeting that was symbolic of where he wants to lead his new government, by taking the unusual step of holding a governmental meeting in the West Bank outside the boundaries of sovereign Israel. The last time such a meeting was held was in December 2001, in a military base in the Binyamin region.
“This is a historic moment,” Likud Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting, standing not far from the spot in the Jordan Valley where the Jews first crossed into the Land of Israel in Biblical times. “This is our land. This is an ancient land of the people of Israel.
“We are here not only with a cabinet meeting, but with a decision about a new settlement not far from here, Mevo’ot Yericho,” said Akunis, who has long been a supporter of Jordan Valley sovereignty. “This is the first step toward Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley.”
Netanyahu’s government had already been in the middle of transforming the unauthorized Mevo’ot Yericho outpost – consisting of over 30 families, first built in 1999 – into a new neighborhood of the Yitav settlement. Sunday’s government decision opened the door to upgrading its status as a new Jordan Valley settlement.
“The final decision [to authorize the settlement] will only be advanced in the next government,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “Needless to say, this holds for all the procedures which need to be executed.”
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit had initially refused to support the Mevo’ot Yericho vote, and accused Netanyahu of using the cabinet meeting to advance his personal electoral agenda.
Mandelblit rescinded his objection, however, after he was presented with new information, presumably with regard to US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which showed that there was a diplomatic urgency with regard to the vote to legalize the outpost. The attorney-general said that under these circumstances such a vote could be taken.
During the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu spoke of three strategic announcements he had made in the last week as the election campaign draws to a close.
The first, he said, was Trump’s pledge of a mutual defense treaty between the two countries, which would be significant in deterring threats against the Jewish state.
“Over the weekend, I spoke with my friend President Trump,” Netanyahu said. “We agreed to advance a historic defensive alliance between the US and Israel at our upcoming meeting at the UN General Assembly. This is historic because it adds a powerful component of deterrence against our enemies, alongside maintaining the ability to act, and freedom of action, of our forces. On this we will always insist, and it will always be in this defensive agreement just as it has entered into the other defensive agreements.”
The second step, Netanyahu said, was his pledge – upon formation of a new government – to annex 31 settlements, including 22 in the Jordan Valley, five in Megilot, and four in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.
“I am proud to convene this special cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley,” said Netanyahu. “This is not only the eastern gate of the State of Israel; it is a defensive wall from the east because the Jordan Valley, together with the areas that control it – which will be part of the State of Israel – ensure that the IDF will be here forever. Instead of having a state that is only a few kilometers wide, this will be a state with strategic depth and strategic height.”
The third step he has taken, Netanyahu said, was his promise to annex all of the West Bank settlements, including those in isolated areas.
Netanyahu has attempted in the last week to turn the election into a mandate for his annexation plan, asking voters who support the plan to vote for him, explaining that he believes it can be done in conjunction with Trump’s peace plan, known as the “Deal of the Century.”
Netanyahu said he would be “applying Israeli sovereignty over all of the communities in Judea and Samaria, both in those blocs – including the area of the blocs – and also those outside the blocs, as well as additional areas that are vital for our security and for ensuring our heritage. These things will come up in the plan of the century; it will come very fast after the election.”
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whose Yamina Party wants to annex all of Area C, pressed Netanyahu at the meeting about problems with his sovereignty plan. He asked what would happen to the territory in Area C that is between the settlements.
Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani profusely thanked Netanyahu and even hugged him. Elhayani said that this had been one of the most “important and emotional weeks” in the 11 years he has been in office.
While political pundits in Israel dismissed Netanyahu’s statements, the Palestinian Authority slammed the Jordan Valley meeting and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held an emergency meeting on Sunday about the annexation pledge.
PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki told the OIC that united action was needed to combat this threat.
“We must work collectively and united at all international levels and with the international community to push them to shoulder their responsibilities and implement the international will.”
The left-wing NGO Peace Now said that if the Mevo’ot Yericho settlement was developed, it would block the expansion of the northern section of Jericho.
“This official establishment of another settlement proves yet again that the government is unencumbered by the thought of international backlash or the end to Israeli democracy on its way to annex Area C,” Peace Now said. “The government continues to show blatant disregard for reaching a two-state conflict-ending agreement with the Palestinians. Instead, it prefers to take new strides in formalizing the acquisition of occupied territory, and to control the area’s resources while permanently keeping the Palestinian population confined without full rights in isolated cantons.”