Bill to Annex West Bank Settlement Won't Be Voted on Sunday, Official Says

Netanyahu has repeatedly scuttled attempts to advance passage of the controversial bill, but Habayit Hayehudi party has pushed for a vote on it.

The West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, January 2017.
Gil Cohen-Magen

A bill that would effectively annex the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim and which had been due to be voted on by a Knesset panel on Sunday will not advance through the legislative process anytime soon, a senior Likud official said Saturday night.

With the approaching Passover Knesset recess, the official reason for the delay is that the Ministerial Committee for Legislation does not vote on private members' bill during the last week before the recess, which means that it would not be considered by the committee until mid-May at the earliest.

One of the bill's sponsors, Habayit Hayedudi's Bezalel Smotrich, said he had no intention of withdrawing the legislation from the committee agenda for Sunday. Referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's threat to hold early elections if plans for the new public broadcasting corporation are not scrapped, Smotrich said: "When the prime minister creates a crazy agenda, even dragging the country into unnecessary elections, we have to get the approval of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for applying sovereignty to Ma'aleh Adumim.

"That will restore the really important diplomatic agenda. If we're going to have elections, [it should be] over the real thing and not over a nonsensical and insignificant dispute," he said.

But Smotrich was unable to confirm whether the legislation would really remain on the meeting agenda for Sunday.

The bill was initially to have come before the ministerial committee last Tuesday but was deferred at the request of coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) due to the visit to the region of U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt. Bitan had asked for a three-month postponement but Habayit Hayehudi party chairman Naftali Bennett only consented to delay the vote until Sunday.

Consent by the ministerial committee indicates coalition backing for the legislation, which generally ensures its passage in some form. Netanyahu has repeatedly attempted to scuttle a vote by the committee.

The bill would apply Israeli law to Ma'aleh Adumim, a large West Bank settlement just east of Jerusalem, effectively annexing it. As a result, it would also apply Israeli law to E1, which had previously been made part of the settlement's municipal area.

E1, an area of 12 square kilometers (about 4.5 square miles) north and west of Ma’aleh Adumim has been a source of major international controversy. American administrations, including the Obama White House, have opposed Israeli construction there and all of the construction plans in the area have been put on hold for political and diplomatic reasons since 2005.

The Palestinians claim that Israeli construction in E1 would narrow the land link between the northern West Bank and its southern part and make it more difficult to create a contiguous Palestinian state in the territory.