Settlers against annexation

The settlement of Na'aleh in Samaria on the West Bank / Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP

The idea of a Palestinian state in which Israeli settlements will be enclaves has changed minds about the Netanyahu-Trump plan.

Annexation, or imposition of Israeli law and sovereignty on about one third of Judea and Samaria, is on the face of it the heart's desire of the ideological Israeli settler movement. Fifty-three years after the Six Day War and the first settlement in the territories Israel conquered - the re-settlement of Kfar Etzion, which was overrun and destroyed in the 1948 War of Independence - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with an especially friendly US president, is promoting an annexation plan. The plan is due to be presented to the government on July 1, after the precise mapping of the territory is complete, and after consultation with the US administration on the details.

Surprisingly, however, opposition to the plan is growing among the settlement leadership, to the extent of demanding that Netanyahu should cancel it. The reason: Israel's agreement in principle to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the rest of the territory of the West Bank. Objections to the idea of Israel consenting to this have been voiced by the settlers before, but it should be recalled that the Trump peace plan was received with singing and dancing among the settlers when it was published, and their representatives were in Washington for the event.

Among the local council heads in Judea and Samaria, the current wave of opposition is led by Yochai Damari, head of the Mount Hebron Regional Council and a resident of Otniel, and Shlomo Ne'eman, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, a resident of Karmei Tzur. Their places of residence add personal interest to their opposition to the annexation, as their settlements will be isolated enclaves on the Trump map.

Ne'eman told "Globes" that the enclaves were unacceptable. "It's inconceivable that Jewish settlements in which Israeli citizens live should be joined to their state by a narrow strip of road ten meters wide, with the territory of a Palestinian state on either side. It simply won't happen."

When the plan was published, you agreed and you celebrated.

"We understood that, for its part, in return for the annexation, Israel was giving consent to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians, but if we are required to agree in advance to the establishment of a Palestinian state, we are unequivocally against it."

Even at the cost of cancellation of sovereignty?

"Unequivocally yes. We've been in this situation for fifty years, under military law; we'll carry on living that way for another fifty years. This is our principled, ideological position, against the establishment of a Palestinian state between the Jordan and the sea. The plan is positive in that it abolishes the idea of transfer of Jews or Arabs in order to reach peace, and in that it imposes sovereignty."

A further problematic point that he raises is the condition that, in exchange for sovereignty, during the period of negotiations, Israel will have to forego construction outside of settlements until the borders are set in the negotiations. "Freezing construction will mean that the settlements will be strangled, and will not be able to build even in the thirty percent on which sovereignty will be imposed. This is contrary to the promises we received in Washington," he says. "There, they told us that it would really be 'like Tel Aviv'. Now, the US ambassador has made clear that it's a matter of a freeze even in the territory over which we will be sovereign. We will not agree to a construction freeze in even a single settlement."

What's you solution to the situation?

Ne'eman hedges his response, saying that on this point he has to express a personal view that might be different from that of his colleagues. He sides with the establishment of a single state from the Jordan to the sea with full rights granted to the Palestinian Arab residents of Judea and Samaria. "What's the difference between an Arab from Nablus, and an Arab from Umm al-Fahm within Israel. Both of them fought against us, and one of them stopped doing so a long time ago," he says.

"There will be no apartheid," he adds. "The Arabs, like all Israeli citizens, are entitled to full rights. The process will be gradual, but it will happen. I'm not concerned about the demographic issue. As far as I understand, when there will be twenty million Israelis here, only six million of them will be Arabs, and so I'm not worried."

Will your campaign succeed?

"I don't know. But it's completely clear to me that Netanyahu is serious and very much wants to implement annexation to set his stamp on history as the leader who brought it about. Trump wants it too, and is urged on by the evangelists, who are more right-wing and more ideological than the most right-wing of the settlers It looks as though it will happen."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 20, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020.

The settlement of Na'aleh in Samaria on the West Bank / Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP
The settlement of Na'aleh in Samaria on the West Bank / Photo: Ariel Schalit, AP
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