West Bank sovereignty bill on ministerial agenda, despite PM’s reluctance

Talk of Netanyahu’s reticence in supporting the bill has bolstered those to his Right.

THE OFRA SETTLEMENT is seen from the Amona outpost in the West Bank. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
THE OFRA SETTLEMENT is seen from the Amona outpost in the West Bank.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A bill to apply Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements remains on the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s agenda for Sunday, but is unlikely to go to a vote in light of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to it, and the escalation in the north.
Likud MK Yoav Kisch’s office said on Saturday night that he does not plan to remove the bill, which he proposed with Bayit Yehudi lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, from the panel’s docket. The two legislators are co-chairmen of the influential, right-wing Knesset Land of Israel Caucus.
Israeli laws do not automatically extend to the West Bank and usually require a military order for them to apply, because the IDF governs the area. Many on the Right see this as discrimination against Israeli citizens based on where they live.
Kisch and Smotrich’s proposal, which is signed by MKs from their parties and Shas, would make Israeli laws apply to all settlements in the West Bank, a move that supporters on the Right says shows that those areas are fully part of Israel, and critics on the Left say is creeping annexation. Their bill is a version of a resolution passed by the Likud central committee last month.
Just because the legislation is on the Ministerial Committee for Legislation’s agenda does not mean the ministers will vote on it. In fact, the votes on most items on the panel’s docket each week are postponed.
In this case, the bill must pass through one more station before a ministerial vote: the coalition party leaders’ meeting.
Netanyahu is expected to voice opposition to voting on the bill at this time. Last week, sources close to the prime minister already said it would cause a major diplomatic headache. The escalation in the security situation in the North will likely help Netanyahu’s case.
Talk of Netanyahu’s reticence in supporting the bill has bolstered those to his Right.
Bayit Yehudi said they will support the bill in the ministerial committee.
“We support the Likud central committee for authorizing the sovereignty plan several weeks ago, and expect on Sunday that it will be translated into action and a vote in favor of the bill,” a statement from the party issued on Thursday reads. “Just as [first Likud prime minister Menachem] Begin applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights in 1981, the current government must take the obvious Zionist action.”
The National Union, a party that has two lawmakers within Bayit Yehudi’s Knesset faction – Smotrich and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel – released an online video splicing speeches from the Likud central committee on sovereignty in the West Bank with the prime minister saying “There will be nothing,” a comment he often makes about ongoing investigations into allegations of corruption by him.
The Likud Nationalist Camp, the pressure group that proposed the central committee resolution, came out against the video, “which presents the prime minister and party leader as someone who disdains the central committee decision and will act to prevent sovereignty over the settlements – which is a lie.”
“Netanyahu did not act to prevent the central committee resolution. Netanyahu is the one who said that the settlers of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley will not be discriminated against, and he is the only one who says over and over that no towns will be evacuated. We are certain that Prime Minister Netanyahu will lead this bill with pride, and prove again that he knows how to make history,” the Nationalist Camp said.
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay called the pressure a political bribe.
“On the eve of the police’s decision about the serious corruption scandals and the heavy suspicions that [Netanyahu] accepted bribes comes the political bribe: Territory for corruption. The annexation bribe. That’s the deal,” he said.
Gabbay added: “The future of the country? Netanyahu is willing to sell our Jewish majority for his political survivor.”
MEANWHILE, the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization representing Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, also called on Netanyahu to back sovereignty. Yesha Council chairman Hananel Dorani and 18 mayors in the West Bank signed a letter saying “there is no doubt that if the bill goes to a vote, it will get the necessary majority. Israel’s situation in many areas, and the support of our friends in America... create good timing for this move.
“It is in your hands to provide civic, elementary justice for the half-million citizens of Israel who live in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, and turn the 70th year since Israel’s establishment into a turning-point year for the future of settlements,” they wrote.
At the same time, the Yesha Council’s chief foreign envoy and Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi wrote an article for Arutz Sheva saying that adopting the sovereignty bill would be a bad idea, and called for the government to adopt the Edmond Levy report, instead.
The Levy Report, published in 2012, was written by the former Supreme Court justice appointed by Netanyahu to investigate the legal status of West Bank settlements. The report said the settlements are legal under international law and Israel’s presence in the West Bank is not an occupation, and provides a path to legalization for unauthorized outposts, and recommended establishing a court to adjudicate land disputes between Israelis and Palestinians.