Israeli Minister Proposes Annexing Large Settlement East of Jerusalem

Annexation of Ma'aleh Adumim is a divisive issue in the coalition, mainly due primarily to the anticipated reaction of the international community.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett in Israel's Knesset. 2016
Emil Salman

Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett on Sunday called on the government to pass a law annexing Ma'aleh Adumim, a large settlement east of Jerusalem, to Israel by the end of the month. Bennett serves in the government as minister of education.

"Before the end of January, we, together with all the coalition parties, will propose a bill for the imposition of Israeli law on Ma'aleh Adumim," Bennett said. "I expect all members of the government to support the bill."

The annexation of Ma'aleh Adumim is a flagship of Habayit Hayehudi policy and one of the ways in which Bennett wants to differentiate his party from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud during the Donald Trump's adminstration.

A Palestinian riding a donkey near the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim in the West Bank, December 28, 2016.
Baz Ratner/Reuters

The issue of annexation is one of the most divisive in the coalition, due primarily to concern over the reaction of the international community to the move.

It is due to be discussed by the Knesset Law Committee in a special session on Monday morning. Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kasriel and the heads of the Knesset Land of Israel lobby, MKs Yoav Kish (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), are scheduled to attend the meeting.  

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of the Likud, said on Saturday that unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank would be a “disaster” and is opposed by his party.

“It wouldn’t be good for Israel to unilaterally annex Judea and Samaria, and, therefore, the Likud government does not and will not support a unilateral move,” Hanegbi said in Haifa, referring to the West Bank by its Hebrew name.

He added that “unilateral annexation is Bennett’s agenda, not the prime minister’s,”

The proposal was also rejected by Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) in a radio interview on Thursday. "I don't think it will come to that and not to anything else," Galant said. "I think we should be more moderate than thinking we can do 'cut and paste.'"

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) said that “the forces that are demanding annexation are growing stronger, and they’re brainwashing the public with lies – like coming and saying, ‘We’ll annex Area C and the world will consent to this,’” said Herzog, referring to the part of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and military control. “Area C is 60 percent of Judea and Samaria. Not only does this have no chance, but it would create a Bosnia or a Syria here.”

Bennett's initiative has given a new lease on life to a proposed law originally drafted by the Land of Israel lobby and signed by the whips of all the parties in the coalition, excepting United Torah Judaism.

"Even though key Knesset members signed the bill, that doesn't commit Netanyahu or the heads of the coalition parties," a coalition source said. "There isn't a sane member of the right who would damage his reputation by not signing something like that. The assumption is that Netanyahu will put a stop to it before it comes to a vote, thus avoiding international embarrassment."