What happened: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with settler leaders yesterday, ahead of the anticipated move towards annexation.
- According to the Prime Minister’s Office, “Prime Minister Netanyahu said in the meeting that ‘an historic opportunity is before us to apply sovereignty in the territory of Judea and Samaria.’ Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated his commitment to hold negotiations on the basis of the Trump plan. The prime minister informed that the discussions with the Americans were still ongoing …. Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Knesset speaker called on the council chairmen in Judea and Samaria to support this historic initiative.”
- Samaria Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan said, “We have come here to encourage him to apply sovereignty immediately, with or without the United States’ consent. We elected you and not anyone else, including the president of the United States. We also came to express our concerns lest they (foreign powers) try to dictate to Israel from the outside things that will endanger its existence, such as the establishment of a terrorist state or forsaking tens of thousands of residents. We will stand vehemently and clearly against the establishment of a terrorist state in the heart of the State of Israel.”
- However, there could be delays, as Israel is still waiting on the US to hear when they can move forward, what the scope of the territory that can be annexed is going to be and where. Sources in the settlement movement told Israeli media that Netanyahu had told them “the situation hasn’t become clear yet. We have a vision and a position on the issue of the future map, which the Americans also have, as you know. We’re talking with them all the time but we haven’t reached agreements yet”.
- According to Kan Radio, the settler leaders said Netanyahu has agreed in principle to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state, adding that they had been unable to persuade him to keep the issue of applying sovereignty in the West Bank separate from that issue. According to the settlers, Netanyahu told them that a different peace plan by a different administration would require Israel to remove settlements. The settler leaders responded by saying: “We would rather swim in sewage than drown in freshwater.”
- On Monday, Netanyahu discussed developments with senior US officials including Jared Kushner and White House envoy to region Avi Berkowitz. In addition, US Ambassador David Friedman met with Benny Gantz, Israel’s defence minister and alternate prime minister (APM).
Context: The US-Israel mapping committee’s efforts to demarcate what Israel can annex in the West Bank have been delayed. Key members of the US team, including Kushner, Berkowitz and Scott Leith have been unable to visit due to the coronavirus pandemic.
- The settlers are concerned that the US plan results in around 19 enclaves becoming surrounded by a future Palestinian state on all sides, leaving their only connection to other Israeli towns via a narrow access road. There are estimated to be around 20,000 settlers living in these communities.
- There is growing disagreement within the settler leadership. A minority argue that any plan that allows them to extend sovereignty should be supported. But the majority thinks that the plan is dangerous and should be opposed, and that they should be allowed to present an alternative map to the US team.
- The former head of the Shin Bet security service, Yoram Cohen, told Kan Radio, “Such a major move of annexation is liable to destabilise the security situation and to precipitate a crisis in relations with Arab and European countries. And what worries me most is that we’re devolving into the option of a single state de facto coming into being, which is a catastrophe for the State of Israel. Who’s going to defend us when we count our dead?”
- There is concern that any move could increase terror attacks even before annexation is applied, primarily because of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus and the lack of Israeli-Palestinian security coordination.
- Earlier this week Defence Minister Gantz announced that he has instructed IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi “to accelerate the IDF’s preparations for the political measures on the agenda in the Palestinian arena, and updated him on the advancements in the political arena”.
Looking ahead: Everyone is still waiting for the US-Israel mapping team to release finalised maps and arrangements. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu claims he hasn’t seen the final US approved map.
- The settlement leadership is expected to launch a public campaign and in parallel lobby Israeli and US officials.
- Later today the IDF and Shin Bet are holding simulations to explore various scenarios that could develop as a result of any move towards annexation. Defence Minister Gantz also intends to appoint a project leader in the next few days who will be in charge of coordination.