Applying Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank would lead to an “immediate crisis” with the US administration, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.
“We received a direct message – that application of Israeli sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria would mean an immediate crisis with the new [US] administration,” said Liberman, who flew to Washington later in the day.
He spoke to the committee in response to statements made Sunday by MK Miki Zohar (Likud), who said Israel should annex the West Bank without granting full citizenship to its Palestinian inhabitants.
“I’ve received phone calls from all over the world asking if this is the coalition’s stance,” Liberman said.
He reiterated his opposition to annexing Judea and Samaria and stressed that the coalition must also clarify that annexation is not its official stance, in order to prevent diplomatic strife with the US.
Trump tells Israel to 'hold back on settlements' during meeting with Netanyahu at White House on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)
“We have no intention of doing so,” he said. “Applying sovereignty over Judea and Samaria means accepting an extra 2,700,000 Palestinian] citizens, and that is before I get into [consequences of] international law, the political implications and the international community’s reactions that would not accept the fact that we are not granting them the right to vote.”
Liberman then explained what the State of Israel would be required to do if it chooses such a path. “We must grant them at least the status of residents, as we did in east Jerusalem.
That means Israel will have to pay them – from day one – NIS 20 billion, just for social security. That is only for unemployment benefits, convalescence payments and maternity benefits. All this from day one, and I didn’t even mention funding from the Interior Ministry, Health Ministry and Housing Ministry.
“So whoever wants strife with the US and to spend NIS 20 billion – go ahead. I am calling on the rest of the MKs, especially from the coalition, to be responsible,” Liberman said.
His comments came amid a renewed drive by right-wing politicians and the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus to annex the third-largest West Bank settlement, Ma’aleh Adumim, a Jerusalem suburb.
It is part of a larger drive by right-wing politicians to annex Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civil control. All of Israel’s West Bank settlements are located in Area C, which is also home to some 300,000 Palestinians. The bulk of the Palestinian population lives in Areas A and B of the West Bank, which are under the autonomous civil rule of the Palestinian Authority.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Monday told Israel Radio that the sovereignty drive by the Bayit Yehudi Party and right-wing politicians in the Likud is solely focused on Area C of the West Bank.
Knesset Land of Israel Caucus chairmen Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) and Yoav Kisch (Likud) had hoped the Ministerial Committee for Legislation would debate and vote on an annexation bill for Ma’aleh Adumim last Sunday.
Under pressure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they agreed to postpone the issue until the next weekly cabinet meeting.
“We have to stop this campaign of fear about sovereignty,” Smotrich and Kisch said on Monday, in response to Liberman’s comments. “A nation cannot be an occupier in its land, so we are not talking about annexation but rather about the imposition of sovereignty on our land.
We are continuing in the path of the Zionist leaders that applied sovereignty on the land in 1948, 1967 and 1981.
“The time has come to take the next step: we’re advancing a law to apply sovereignty over Ma’aleh Adumim that will have a majority in the Ministerial Legislative Committee and in the Knesset plenum.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely disputed Liberman’s understanding of the Trump administration’s stance with regard to West Bank settlements.
“Minister Liberman is attempting to dictate a reality that has not yet been created in Washington,” Hotovely said. The diplomatic dialogue between Israel and Washington has not yet begun, she added, and the Trump administration is still working on its strategic plan for the region.
“All options are on the table,” Hotovely said. “These kinds of unnecessary fears only harm Israel’s ability to act freely.”
US President Donald Trump, however, has urged restraint when it comes to settlement activity and has asked Israel not to take dramatic steps. Meanwhile, Netanyahu is under pressure from the Right to do just that, particularly from the Bayit Yehudi Party, which has insisted that he make good on his pledge to create a settlement for the Amona evacuees.
Bayit Yehudi Party head Naftali Bennett visited a protest tent the Amona evacuees have set up outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem and promised that he would ensure the construction of a settlement.
Six representatives from the Amona community began a hunger strike on Thursday to try to force Netanyahu to bring the matter to a government vote.