Netanyahu 'Betrayed Our Trust': Settler Leaders Criticize UAE Deal Blocking Annexation

'It's tragic Netanyahu hasn't seized the moment and hasn't had the courage to extend sovereignty even over an inch of the Land of Israel,' far-right leader Bennett says

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a phone call with Washington and Dubai, August 13, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a phone call with Washington and Dubai, August 13, 2020.Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO

The announcement on Thursday of the normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and that Israel had agreed to stop plans to annex parts of the West Bank, drew both optimistic excitement and anger, with some settlers in the West Bank left feeling outraged and betrayed.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler opposition party Yamina, congratulated leaders for the agreement, but said "it's sad [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu missed a once-in-a-century opportunity to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley... and the rest of Israeli settlements [in the West Bank]. It's tragic Netanyahu hasn't seized the moment and hasn't had the courage to extend sovereignty even over an inch of the Land of Israel."

David Elhayani, chairman of the Yesha Council umbrella group of settlement councils, said Netanyahu "misled us" and "betrayed my trust and the trust of the residents of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley... Don't expect us to keep quiet."

Shlomo Ne’eman, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council that governs a bloc of West Bank settlements, said: “We welcome any agreement that normalizes the Middle East, just as long as it’s not obtained by giving up parts of the homeland. Our expectation is that just as the prime minister knows how to be a political acrobat in the local arena, in the international arena he will also know how to bring the sovereignty he promised the Israeli people countless times.”

The mayor of the settlement of Beit El, Shai Alon, meanwhile said, “We were sold out,” describing the normalization deal as worthless. 

Other settlement leaders disagreed. Oded Ravivi, mayor of Efrat, said that “postponing the application of Israeli law in exchange for a peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates is an acceptable price,” arguing that the belief that the settlements were not an obstacle to peace would increase and lead to the possibility of annexation

While Thursday's deal halts Israeli annexation plans, the Palestinians have repeatedly urged Arab governments not to normalize relations with Israel until a peace agreement establishing an independent Palestinian state is reached.

Flanked by David Friedman and Jared Kushner, Donald Trump speaks about a deal reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates from the Oval Office, August 13, 2020.
Flanked by David Friedman and Jared Kushner, Donald Trump speaks about a deal reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates from the Oval Office, August 13, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Many Israeli lawmakers, meanwhile, welcomed the news.

Netanyahu tweeted an Israeli flag with a short message in Hebrew: “A historic day.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is also the alternate prime minister under a power sharing deal, said Thursday’s agreement expressed an “alliance” between countries in the region who aim for stability and prosperity. He said the agreement will have “many positive implications” on the region and called on other Arab states to pursue peace deals with Israel.

He thanked President Trump, calling him a “true friend of Israel.”

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, part of Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, said he welcomed Israel’s backing down from “unilateral annexation” of the West Bank, saying Trump’s Mideast plan would be discussed in consultation with countries in the region.

A television screen shows Donald Trump as Palestinians follow the news on the UAE's agreement with Israel on normalizing relations, in Hebron, August 13, 2020.
A television screen shows Donald Trump as Palestinians follow the news on the UAE's agreement with Israel on normalizing relations, in Hebron, August 13, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said “negotiations and agreements, not unilateral steps like annexation” were key to Israel’s diplomatic relations.

Pompeo praised the deal. “This is a remarkable achievement for two of the world’s most forward leaning, technologically advanced states, and reflects their shared regional vision of an economically integrated region,” he said in a statement. “It also illustrates their commitment to confronting common threats, as small – but strong – nations.”

He added: "Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov.”

Top Emirati official Anwar Gargash told reporters Thursday that the move dealt a “death blow” to moves by Israel to annex Palestinian lands.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told reporters on Thursday that the Emiratis wanted to “try and put one on one together” and develop an organic relationship that was already existing in many fields.

“Let us try and get something tangible,” he said.

He described it as a “bold step.” “We’ve come up with a realization,” he said. “Our relationship has not always been central... but we came out and argued that in every difficult political file in the region, when you do have bridges and contacts you become more important and influential in trying to affect results and trying to help.”

“The UAE is using its gravitas and promise of a relationship to unscrew a time bomb that is threatening a two-state solution,” Gargash said. When asked about a time frame for embassies opening, Gargash said it will not be long and “this is for real”. “We are not talking about step by step.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.

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