Likud pushing for annexation even in coalition with Blue and White, Labor

Netanyahu could offer ambassadorships to disappointed Likud ministers left without portfolios.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu during a speech to the Knesset. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu during a speech to the Knesset.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Likud representatives demanded in coalition negotiations that MKs be allowed to vote according to their conscience regarding settlement annexation, a minister in the party said Monday.
If such an agreement is reached, the Knesset likely would be able to approve applying Israeli law to settlements in the West Bank even if Blue and White and Labor, which oppose unilateral annexation, are in the coalition.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to apply Israeli law to all Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria within the framework of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which allows for Israeli annexation of 30% of the West Bank. The other 70% would become a demilitarized Palestinian state.
There likely would be 61 votes in the Knesset favor of annexation should the matter be brought to a vote. The bloc of Likud, Shas, UTJ and Yamina, which recommended Netanyahu as prime minister, has 58 seats. With the addition of Derech Eretz, whose two MKs, Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, support annexation, and Gesher, whose sole MK, Orly Levy-Abecassis, has right-wing views on diplomatic issues, the Right would have 61 votes.
A free vote on annexation would be “a huge achievement” for the Right, the Likud minister said.
Earlier this week, a source close to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said he has consistently opposed “unilateral annexation.”
Gantz “has the general principle of not wanting to alienate Jordan and Egypt, and that position has not changed,” the source said.
Asked about Gantz’s apparent opposition to a core element of the peace plan, a Trump administration source said Gantz “came to Washington and said he’s in favor of it, and we have not heard anything different from him.”
“Until he tells us [otherwise], we are proceeding as though we have a partner on the other side,” the source said.
Leaders of left-wing organizations the Geneva Initiative, Peace Now and others signed a letter calling on Gantz and Labor leader Amir Peretz to demand veto power over settlement annexation.
“The matter of the territories and settlements was and remains the main controversy in Israeli society,” the letter reads. “A government that will annex settlements to Israel is not a unity government, but a right-wing government that chooses to destroy the chance to separate into two states and endangers the existing agreements between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.”
Gantz and Peretz “crawling into an annexation government is a betrayal of the voters,” Peace Now wrote on social media, adding that they “cannot abandon Israel’s future to extremist forces.”
Also Monday, several Likud ministers speculated that Netanyahu may offer them ambassadorships in lieu of cabinet portfolios.
Gantz and Netanyahu have agreed to form the new government based on parity between the camps in favor of each candidate, which will likely mean 15 for each side. Since there are more parties in Netanyahu’s 58-seat bloc than in Gantz’s 19-seat bloc, Likud is not expected to have more than eight ministers, down from its current 21.
This means Netanyahu will have to deal with many disappointed members of his faction, and a diplomatic post is one way he may placate them. The law currently allows 11 political appointees to diplomatic positions.
Among the ambassadorial roles that expire later this year and could be filled by a politician are ambassador to the US, UN, UK, France and Russia, as well as consul-general in New York.
Some, like Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, have had their tenure in their role extended several times.
Ambassador to the UN is seen as the most politically attractive role, with multiple ministers saying on condition of anonymity they would take it if they cannot return to the cabinet.
“I wouldn’t refuse the UN if the prime minister should offer it,” one minister said.
Netanyahu has offered Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan the UN post multiple times, but he turned it down.
Energy, Water and Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close Netanyahu ally, is thought to be a leading candidate for ambassador to the US.