Settlement leaders split on annexation reflects lack of trust in PM

Netanyahu has been unable to win over the settlement leaders because not all of them trust his word. And without details of the plan out there for all to see, trust becomes important.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with Yesha council heads at the Prime Minister's Office. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with Yesha council heads at the Prime Minister's Office.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
The world has little time and patience for nuance, and as a result has a tendency to look at the 460,000 Israelis living in settlements in Judea and Samaria and lump them all into one “settler” basket.
In this superficial view, there is no difference between an Israeli living in the suburban Jerusalem community of Ma’ale Adumim, or one living not far from Nablus in Elon Moreh. This view makes no distinction between an ideological settler in Yitzhar, and a haredi living in Beitar Ilit.
As such, the divisions inside the Yesha Council regarding US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and the rifts surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared intent to extend sovereignty over large swaths of Judea and Samaria next month seem to many to be perplexing.
But since the settlement enterprise began immediately after the Six Day War, there have been different strains of thought within the movement. It has always had splits between the pragmatists and the ideologues, between those motivated by religious ideals and those by security ones, between those in rural settlements and others in more urban ones.
Yet even with those divisions, on major political issues – be it Menachem Begin’s uprooting of Yamit and the settlements in Sinai in the 1980s, The Oslo Accords in the 1990s, or Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan from Gaza in 2005- among the settlement leadership, even if there was disagreement over tactics.
This time, however, things are different. The settlement leadership is largely split over whether to support or oppose extending Israeli law now to parts of the West Bank, with a group of five – led by Yesha Council head David Elhayani and including the local and regional council heads of the South Hebron Hills, Gush Etzion, Beit El and Ma’ale Adumim – leading the charge against, and another group, headed by Efrat Council head Oded Revivi and including the council heads of Oranit, Alfei Menashe, Ariel, Elkana and Karnei Shomron, arguing that while the plan might not be ideal, Israel needs to seize the historic opportunity.
In other words, just three weeks before the plan can, according to the coalition agreement, come before the cabinet for approval, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not been able to get the settlement leadership fully behind him.
The seeds of this failure were sown by the disappointing experience some of the settlement leaders had with other politicians in general, and with Netanyahu in particular, in the past.
One of the striking features of Israel’s plan to extend its sovereignty under the Trump plan is that the maps are a closely guarded secret, and have been so for the three years during which the plan has been under discussion. Although the settlement leaders have a rough idea of what is involved, they have not seen a final map, with Netanyahu essentially saying, “trust me.”
And that is the problem: some of the settlement leaders do not trust Netanyahu to preserve their interests.
To be fair, it is not only Netanyahu. There is a deep distrust among some settler leaders towards the government, a distrust that peaked in 2005 when Sharon backtracked on previous promises and uprooted every settlement in Gaza. And that distrust has spilled over into how some of the settlement leaders view Netanyahu.
On the surface, one could look at the number of settlers who lived in West  Bank settlements when Netanyahu came into office in 2009 – 296,700 – and look at the number there today, some 463,300, and say that an increase of more than 160,000 people in 11 years is no mean achievement for the settlement enterprise. .
But some settlement leaders look at it differently. Yes, there has been an overall increase, but the overall rate of growth under Netanyahu has slowed. Yes, there is building now, but not at the level one could expect during the reign of the friendliest US administration toward the settlements that has ever existed.
Further, there is distrust of Netanyahu because of his agreement with Yasser Arafat regarding an Israeli pullout in Hebron during his first term in office; because he never carried out promises he made to build in the E1 region between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim; and because some of his promises to approve massive projects over the last decade have come to naught.
Netanyahu has been unable to win over the settlement leaders because not all of them trust his word. And without details of the plan out there for all to see, trust becomes important.
There is also a lack of clarity regarding what Israel is expected to do under the Trump plan. Does the plan say that Israel, in order to annex, needs only to say that it is willing to sit down and negotiate a Palestinian state, or does the plan demand that Israel accept in principle the establishment of a Palestinian state as a precondition to annexation?
Another problem is that lines of where Israel’s sovereignty will extend is unclear. There is general confusion regarding what roads will and will not be open to traffic to and from the settlements, as well as the fate of a slew of unauthorized settlements outside the areas that are to become an integral party of Israel. Furthermore, there are questions about what exactly Israel will be asked to give to the Palestinians as a concession for extending its sovereignty, specifically what parts of Areas B or C now under either full or partial Israeli control are to be given to the Palestinians as Area A.
Those details have not been spelled out.
Several senior Likud MKs have asked Netanyahu to publicize the map and clarify these issues as soon as possible, arguing that once ALL of this is made clear, some – though not all – of the opposition of the settlement leaders will evaporate.
Yet the reason Netanyahu has not done so may be because he fears the exact opposite: that once the details are out there, the opposition by some of the settlement leaders will actually intensify. And the last thing Netanyahu wants the US administration to see is intense opposition to the plan coming from the people who, on the face of it, would seem to be its prime beneficiaries.