Is Trump’s plan empowering moderate settlers over the right-wing guard?

When it comes to sovereignty, there is a growing call within the settlement movement to neither do it right or wrong, but simply to get it done.

Signs abour annexation with pictures of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are displayed in Israel (photo credit: COURTESY YESHA COUNCIL)
Signs abour annexation with pictures of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are displayed in Israel
(photo credit: COURTESY YESHA COUNCIL)
Sovereignty, “Do It Right!” stated the larger than life posters in English that featured US President Donald Trump. They hung off of buildings in Israel on Sunday as part of the Yesha Council campaign against the White House’s West Bank annexation map. The second campaign poster targeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and included a photograph of the prime minister with the Hebrew words, “No! To a Palestinian state.”
But when it comes to sovereignty, there is a growing call within the settlement movement to neither do it right or wrong, but simply to get it done.
“It’s important to look at the reality on the ground with clear vision,” said Oranit Council head Nir Bartel.
Among the first of the settler leaders to throw caution to the wind and speak out in favor of the Trump peace plan was Ariel Mayor Eli Shaviro, who spoke out at the beginning of February, shortly after it was unveiled at the White House. At the time, he said that he had quit the Yesha Council to protest its opposition to the plan.
Efrat Council head Oded Revivi never opposed the deal, but he was slightly slower to take a strong oppositional stand, against what is considered the power base within the Yesha Council, preferring to remain within the council.
He was considered at best a minority voice, until last week, when he walked into Netanyahu’s office with 10 other settler leaders for a meeting about the plan. They included the leaders of these settlements: Oranit, Alfei Menashe, Elkana, Efrat, Ariel, Givat Ze’ev, Har Adar, Emmanuelm Modi'in Illit and Karnei Shomron, as well as from the Megilot Regional Council. Beitar Illit Mayor Meir Rubinstein also supports the Trump plan, his spokesman later clarified for The Jerusalem Post. Ma’aleh Efraim Council head Shlomo Lalush told the Post that he was undecided.
Effectively, that places close to half of the 25 member Yesha Council in the camp of the pragmatists who want to push forward with an annexation plan within the context of the Trump peace plan. It does not mean that they all agree with every element of the plan, or that they intend to stay silent about the parts they disagree with. Rather, it means they understand the wisdom of moving forward within this context.
But this is not just about a head count among the leadership. For the most part, these men head councils with high population densities, totaling 215,902 settlers. Effectively this is just over 50% of the total settler population of 427,800, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics 2018 data.
Their voting pattern is diverse, with Blue and White securing the highest number of voters out of all the parties in four of the settlements, two favored the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party, two went with Likud, two with Yamina, and one with Shas.
With the exception of the Megilot Regional Council, which only has a population of 1,675, all the other 11 settlements headed by proponents of the Trump plan are located within the boundaries of the security barrier. This means they were likely to have been considered part of the blocs and were likely to have remained part of Israel, within any final status agreement with the Palestinians. As such, the groundwork for compromise was laid long ago, when the talk was of evacuating isolated settlements.
Issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often bind settler leaders across all religious spectrums and all political believes. Some things remain constant, like the problems of living under military rule, building freezes and security.
But the Trump plan is more likely to gain opponents and proponents depending on whether its map harms or benefits the different settlement communities. Ideology can cut through the pragmatism, particularly when it comes to support for a Palestinian state.
But for these pragmatist settler leaders, the path forward is clear. Alfei Menashe Council head Shy Rosenzweig said, “the Yesha Council is made up of different voices. When [council members] say that ‘Trump is not a friend’ of Israel’s and that the plan is a disaster, they are not speaking for us.”
There needs to be a pragmatic who says “this is a historic opportunity” and Israel should take what has been offered to it, because in any event, it is highly unlikely that there will be a Palestinian state as a result, Rosenzweig said.
On Sunday, the Yesha Council urged Netanyahu not to abandon the “right-wing bloc” by supporting a plan that leads to Palestinian statehood. Those who have spoken out against the plan in its current form are the well-known and more familiar faces who have fought for sovereignty for years.
But now that the moment might actually be here, could the more moderates among the settler camp start to take center stage?