Caucus threatens sovereignty bill over silent West Bank settlement freeze

Yesha Council launches campaign against Netanyahu over building

The Israeli national flag flutters as apartments are seen in the background in the Israeli settlement of Efrat in the West Bank August 18, 2020. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
The Israeli national flag flutters as apartments are seen in the background in the Israeli settlement of Efrat in the West Bank August 18, 2020.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
The Knesset Land of Israel Caucus has threatened to advance a private parliamentary sovereignty bill if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not end the de-facto freeze on settlement plans.
“Construction and development of settlements in Judea and Samaria is an elementary right and we will not give up this right. Since this right has been taken away from the settlements, we will work to promote the bill to apply sovereignty to the settlements and bring it to the Knesset for approval,” the caucus said on Thursday.
It references a bill filed by the caucus on July 13, which could be advanced if necessary. The bill, if passed into law, would annex a slightly larger portion of Area C than what was put forward in US President Donald Trump’s map in January.
The caucus’s map is based on the one drawn up by the Yesha Council, which addresses some of the issues in the Trump map. Under Trump’s map, Israel could annex up to 30% of the West Bank, effectively half of Area C, where the settlements are located.
The Yesha Council map covers 32% of the West Bank, but allows for roads and outposts to be annexed to Israel. It also does not place settlements in enclaves.
The bill also speaks about the preservation of state land in the remainder of Area C, to be included within sovereign Israel at a future date. It specifically speaks against Palestinian building and international building for Palestinians in that area, unless otherwise approved by the security cabinet and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
At issue for the caucus and for the Yesha Council is the failure of the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria to convene since February. Promises that a meeting would be held in August never came to fruition.
According to the council, at least 5,500 building plans are waiting to be advanced or approved. Earlier this week, Yesha Council head David Elhayani wrote a letter to Netanyahu demanding that he convene the council.
The Knesset Land of Israel Caucus on Thursday invited Elhayani to an urgent meeting Monday to discuss the matter.
Israel had initially planned to annex up to 30% of the West Bank as allowed under Trump’s map, but Netanyahu agreed to suspend that annexation as a prerequisite for a normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
Right-wing politicians and settlers have feared that the suspension understanding with the United States and the UAE also includes an understanding that settlement planning and the authorization of new units would be quietly frozen.
“The caucus’s position is that no political process of any kind justifies a construction freeze in these areas. There is no doubt that if sovereignty had been applied, a construction freeze could have been avoided,” the caucus said.
Prior to the Israel-UAE deal, there were enough votes in the Knesset to pass such a bill. But even if such a bill now failed, it would force Likud members to go on record with a vote that rejected annexation. It’s a record that would not play well among right-wing voters in any upcoming election.
Separately, the Yesha Council has launched a campaign against the de-facto freeze in settler building plans.
It created a GIF, an animated image, that counts the days – 188 from Thursday – since the approval of building plans. It also included a photo of Netanyahu with the words: “there isn’t sovereignty” and “there is a freeze.”