The Knesset on Wednesday defeated two motions to apply sovereignty to West Bank settlements, brought forward by members of the opposition just hours after the parliament took its first initial vote to disperse.
The votes fell 46-52 and 46-51.
“There is no reason now not to vote [with] your conscience,” said MK Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the religious-Zionist party.
The two private member bills – the second put forward by MK Shlomo Karhi (Likud) – were part of a flurry of legislation parliamentarians attempting to pass before elections end the Knesset’s work, possibly for half a year.
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope), who spoke on behalf of the government, chastised Smotrich and Karhi for bringing forward the bills.
She reminded them that Likud party head Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to suspend sovereignty plans when he was prime minister in exchange for the Abraham Accords, under whose rubric Israel normalized ties with four Arab states.
These sovereignty bills, she said, are an example of “national irresponsibility.”
This is an attempt to undermine the upcoming visit of US President Joe Biden, Biton said. She accused Smotrich and Karhi of pushing forward the sovereignty issue to salvage their conscience for voting against a directive that extended residency rights of settlers for five years, thereby allowing them to operate as though they lived within Israel’s sovereign borders.
The government’s failure to pass the bill was one of the final straws that caused Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to call for new elections. The residency rights will remain in place until after the elections.
Biton accused Smotrich and Karhi of opposing that legislation solely to advance Netanyahu’s political interests, noting that they could not argue on behalf of the same settler population they had tried to harm by voting against the directive.
Smotrich said that those who live in the settlements do not need a directive to protect their rights; they need to be part of sovereign Israel.
“We are here to stay,” he said of the settlements, adding that “they are ours.”
“No one [who] is sane thinks that the settlement of Judea and Samaria is reversible,” Smotrich said.
“Normal people understand that this is the case, whether they like it or not, and because it is the right thing whether they it or not,” he said.
Smotrich asked the Knesset to take the moral step of applying sovereignty to the settlements.
Those who are so filled with antisemitism and hatred of Israel that they cannot acknowledge that they live in a Jewish state should leave and go to Europe, Smotrich said.
"Given that the Knesset is about to disperse, there is no reason not to move your conscience," he said.