Israeli Minister to Present Cabinet With Proposal to Annex Dozens of Jerusalem-area Settlements

Yisrael Katz objects to proposed annexation of all Area C and the 150,000 Palestinians living there, but his plan also significantly includes settlement annexation and accelerated construction in the West Bank.

Construction underway in the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, December 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Yisrael Katz is expected to present at Sunday's diplomatic-security cabinet meeting a proposal to annex dozens of settlements in the Jerusalem area, including Ma’aleh Adumim, as part of an Israeli diplomatic initiative.

Katz's proposal comes on top of Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett's move to enact a law that would apply Israeli sovereignty to Ma’aleh Adumim, also set to be discussed at the cabinet meeting.

On Sunday morning, Katz announced that he agreed with  Netanyahu to bring up his initiative, dubbed the "Israeli initiative plan," at the meeting. Against the backdrop of global and regional realities, Katz stressed, Israel must undertake a widespread initiative coordinated with the new American administration so that it provide it with backing or even lead some of the moves.

The issue of annexing Ma'aleh Adumim came up at the Likud ministers' meeting that took place earlier on Sunday. Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis slammed Bennett at the meeting, against the backdrop of the pressure the latter is exerting on the prime minister regarding the Ma'aleh Adumim law. However, Akunis also told Netanyahu that unlike him, he himself opposes the two-state solution, as is the Likud's position.

In response, Netanyahu said that Akunis doesn’t understand his position on the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"I'm not sure that you would have opposed my opinion had you heard it in detail," Netanyahu said. "Because what I'm willing to give the Palestinians is not exactly a country with all the powers, but a 'state-minus' and that's why the Palestinians don’t agree [to it]."

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Yoav Davidovich

In a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu accepted the two-state solution for the first time and said that he supports "the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish State of Israel."

The collapse of the framework to evacuate the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona was also discussed at the meeting. Netanyahu said that he isn’t contemplating a return to the so-called "Regularization Bill" that includes an article cancelling High Court of Justice decisions.

"The attorney general also opposes this, and we also need to be responsible vis-à-vis the international arena," Netanyahu said. "This law was used as one of the excuse for the Security Council resolution on the settlements, which would have probably been accepted anyhow."

Yisrael Katz's five-part plan

Katz's plan is comprised of several parts:

1. The annexation of settlements around Jerusalem – Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Gush Etzion and Betar Ilit – and their inclusion in what Katz calls the "Greater Jerusalem metropolitan area" while maintaining their municipal independence, similar to Paris or London.

2. The establishment of a similar municipal authority for the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are situated beyond the separation barrier and are today cut off from all municipal services.

3. Reaching an understanding with the Trump administration over Israeli policy on building in the settlements in a way that would allow free construction for all populations in East Jerusalem, as well as an understanding on construction within the municipal area of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

4. Promotion of the plan to build an island off the Gaza Strip, home to a port, water desalination facilities and energy facilities, which would give Gazans a gateway to the world in accordance with security arrangements.

5. Promotion of the "tracks to the East" plan, connecting railways from the Mediterranean Sea and the Haifa port to Jordan and Arab Sunni countries. The Palestinian Authority would be connected to the rail network as well.

"This plan strengthens Israel's standing, improves the situation in the region and doesn’t contradict the possibility of future negotiations and diplomatic agreements," Katz said. He also clarified that he objects to Bennett's plan to annex all of Area C and the 150,000 Palestinians living there.

Katz's proposal, which significantly includes settlement annexation and accelerated construction in the West Bank, comes as Bennett pressures the government to reject the two-state solution and promote Israel's gradual annexation of all settlements.

The first step in this framework would be the promotion of the Bennett-backed bill aimed at annexing the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, slated to come up for a vote Sunday in a ministerial panel, though it remains unclear whether it will come to a vote.

Netanyahu is trying to torpedo the bill. Haaretz has learned that Netanyahu spoke by phone Friday with Bennett and asked him to postpone discussion of the bill in light of messages conveyed by advisers of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Netanyahu told Bennett that Trump’s advisers said no unilateral steps should be taken by Israel before the Netanyahu-Trump meeting, scheduled to take place in the first week of February, but rather to act in coordination and cooperation.

Netanyahu and Bennett agreed that the issue of settlement annexation and Israel's policy vis-à-vis the Trump administration will be discussed at Sunday's cabinet meeting.

Senior Likud officials said they believed the bill would not move ahead at this time. However, senior Habayit Hayehudi officials said that if serious reasons are not given to postpone the bill, a vote would take place Sunday evening, as soon as the cabinet meeting ended, or Monday morning.