The Israeli annexation of West Bank settlements is likely to move ahead in any scenario irrespective of what happens with US Donald Trump’s peace plan, Yesha Council head David Elhayani told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
“I personally believe that the government of Israel has to take a decision with regard to its security and settlement interests in Judea and Samaria without any connection to the plan,” Elhayani said.
The tall veteran settler leader has sought to separate the issue of annexation from the peace plan, because of its support for a demilitarized Palestinian state on 70% of the West Bank. The fact that the plan also allows Israel to apply sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank in Area C where all the settlements are located has not softened his opposition.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea” as well as all the settlements “occurred before the [publication of the] Trump plan. He has to stand by his word,” said Elhayani who is also the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council.
Negotiations to form a government coalition and the Palestinian Authority diplomatic campaign against West Bank annexation have kept the topic of annexation in the headlines in April, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Efrat Council head Oded Revivi told The Jerusalem Post last week that the Trump administration support for Israeli sovereignty is contingent upon Israeli acceptance of the whole plan; demilitarized Palestinian statehood, plus sovereignty.
He has argued that any attempt to separate the two and oppose parts of the Trump plan would doom any possibility of US support for sovereignty.
The US has said that Israel can apply sovereignty in the initial stages of its four year plan, but only upon completion of a joint Israeli-US mapping process and only upon receiving a green light from Washington.
But Elhayani is among those who feel that Israel can move forward anyway. He explained that he can not imagine a scenario in which Trump would oppose the application of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank settlements, particularly given that he has already accepted in principle Israel’s right to such sovereignty.
“I don’t think that the US will go against us [Israel] when Trump is president,” Elhayani said, adding that this is particularly true now in the lead up to the November 2020 election for Trump’s second term in office.
This is the most opportune time, said Elhayani adding, “If it doesn’t happen now, it won’t happen.”
Trump is dependent on evangelical support for re-election and a president who needs that support can’t oppose the application of sovereignty over Biblical Israel, he said. To go against Israel sovereignty in Judea and Samaria is to “go against the religious belief of the evangelicals. I don’t know how Trump could do that and I don’t know how they [the evangelicals] would let him,” he said.
Elhayani, who was in Washington in January when the plan was unveiled so he could receive updates in real time from Netanyahu, said that the US peace initiative was “one big bluff.”
The document “is a proposal for a plan that none of the sides agree to,” Elhayani said.
In its initial phase the plan itself is so speculative that it needs neither government or Knesset approval. It is not an agreement at this phase, he said, rather it is talking points for a debate. Sovereignty however, would likely go to the cabinet and Knesset for. approval, and those votes exist.
What doesn’t exist, said Elhayani, is any support for a Palestinian state, even a demilitarized one. This is even more true for a plan that would include land swaps within sovereign Israel such as the Triangle area or portions of the Negev, he said. Approval for such a swap, he said, would need the support of referendum or approval of 80 out of 120 parliamentarians. There is not enough public or legislative support for either measure, he said.
After that, he said, he feared that a Palestinian state would become a terror state, and pose an existential threat to Israel.
“Trump has to understand that we [Israel] will never lend a hand to the creation of a Palestinian state of terror,” Elhayani said.
Elhayani said he has taken the long view and has not been swayed by those who believe there is no harm in paying lip service to Palestinian statehood, when no such state will likely come to pass.
Elhayani said he is not assuaged by the vision of a demilitarized Palestinian state, because he believes is impossible to prevent the creation the Palestinians from having such an army once a state is formed.
“What is this thing about a state without an army?,” he asked as he dismissed the very idea. “Who says that the morning after a Palestinian state is created, the Palestinian state won’t decide that now it wants an army?”
The best route forward, he said, would be an autonomy plan for Palestinian in Areas A and B. The Palestinians there would be residents of Israel but not citizens. Or perhaps there could be a confederation with that territory and neighboring Jordan, Elhayani suggested.
“Even the prime minister has realized that he doesn’t the mandate, not politically or publicly to agree to a Palestinian state,” Elhayani said. “The prime minister knows what the Americans do not, that there is not a single [Israeli] parliamentarian on the right who would support a Palestinian state,” Elhayani said.
“You have to throw this [Trump] plan into the trash and the State of Israel has to decide to make the right decision. That decision is to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea and the settlements [in Judea and Samaria],” said Elhayani. “The government has to pay its moral debt to the settlements, because it was the government that sent its citizens to live there,” he added.
All the governments helped settle the area, including the Labor Party, which was the initial supporter of the settlements, particularly in the Jordan Valley, he said.
Elhayani said he grew up in the Galilee city of Tiberias and had always dreamed of working in agriculture. So when as a young man in 1983 he saw a government ad in the paper encouraging settlement of the Jordan Valley by young families. He decided to heed the call and has never thought of leaving since.
“When I came to the Jordan Valley, no one said to me, ‘Look you are here for a year or two, maybe four or five maximum, and after that you might have to go because we will make a deal with the Palestinians,’” he said. “The government helped us live here out of the understanding that this was part of Israel."
The application of sovereignty is repayment of "the debt the government owes us,” he said.