The Land of Israel Caucus held its inaugural meeting in the 20th Knesset on Wednesday, with members from the coalition and opposition, and support from ministers.
MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), who co-chairs the caucus with MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), began with a call to action to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman to “put your anger and egos aside and work together in a united, right-wing government.
“Yisrael Beytenu belongs in the coalition,” he said, adding that a stable, strong right-wing coalition can help the caucus obtain its goals.
Kisch also called on caucus members to sign his bill applying Israeli building and construction laws to the West Bank.
The bill would allow residents of the area to go through the regular bureaucracy process when building beyond the Green Line, without needing approval from the IDF, which governs in the West Bank.
“The settlers in Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria have a great difficulty when it comes to laws relating to land or to building and construction, from building pergolas to more significant and larger things, and that is because the laws do not apply to them,” the bill’s explanatory portion states.
Bills applying Israeli laws to the West Bank have been controversial in the past, with the Left considering them to be a form of creeping annexation.
Kisch’s bill is almost identical to one proposed by now-Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in the 18th Knesset.
“This will make life significantly easier for residents of Judea and Samaria, especially in the bigger towns,” Kisch said.
Kisch told the many caucus supporters crowding in the conference room in the Knesset that the group is meant to “spearhead resolving and developing settlements in Judea and Samaria” and to “protect the rights and security of its residents.”
One of the caucus’ central goals will be to “totally bury the Talia Sasson report and fully adopt the Levy report,” Kisch said.
The 2005 Sasson report, commissioned by the Sharon government found Israeli state institutions had diverted millions of shekels to build illegal settlements and outposts.
The Levy Report, published in 2012 by a committee commissioned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Israel does not occupy the West Bank, that settlements are legal, recommends authorizing outposts, and proposes guidelines for building new settlements.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein expressed his support for the caucus, saying that “as a resident of Judea and Samaria for the past 28 years... I would like to see the caucus do practical things, starting with legislation.
If [Kisch’s] bill will make things more simple, the caucus will have justified itself for the coming years.”
Edelstein added that the broad representation of MKs from different parties in the caucus makes him optimistic.
“Ideology is the basis of [the caucus],” he said. “Anyone who doesn’t think we have a right to Judea and Samaria wouldn’t be here.”
The Land of Israel Caucus in the 20th Knesset is made up of MKs from Likud, Kulanu, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu and UTJ.
MK Eli Cohen said most his party Kulanu’s MKs support the caucus, because settlements are important to them.
“We have a national and socioeconomic interest to strengthen them. We want to give these towns the operative tools to continue developing,” Cohen said.
Some in the committee expressed disappointment that the government is not building enough in the West Bank.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel recounted that on Tuesday, "Netanyahu bragged that he built less than anyone else... I’ve never heard anything like it and I hope not to again.
“There is not enough construction in Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria,” Ariel added.
Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel complained that the caucus has existed for six years and it hasn’t succeeded in bringing more construction.
He threatened not to vote for Likud in the future, saying: “No construction, no votes.”
Welfare Minister Haim Katz said Kashriel is right to complain, and lamented that “the people in power think being quiet shows strength.
“We’re not trying to take over new land. We’re asking for what we need to live,” Katz said. “When you need me, I will be there to support you.”
Settlement activist Daniella Weiss wondered why the government isn’t trying to build on unsettled land.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, a former caucus chairman, warned that “we may have to make difficult decisions in the coming days... but I am convinced we will come out stronger.
“We should apply sovereignty to the entire Land of Israel,” Levin said.