Citing Pressure From Trump, Netanyahu Tries to Torpedo Legislation to Annex West Bank Settlement

Netanyahu asks Minister Bennett to postpone a vote on annexing Ma'ale Adumim, says Trump's advisers asked him not to surprise the incoming U.S. administration with unilateral steps, Haaretz learns.

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Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset, January 16, 2017.
Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset, January 16, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

>>UPDATE: Senior Israeli minister presents proposal to annex dozens of Jerusalem-area settlements.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to torpedo a bill to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, slated to come up for a vote Sunday in a ministerial panel. Haaretz has learned that Netanyahu spoke by phone Friday with Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) 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 coordinate and cooperate.

“I’m getting messages from Trump not to jump in head first,” Netanyahu told Bennett.

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Bennett told Netanyahu that he has been asking for a long time to convene a meeting about the policy Israel intends to take vis-à-vis the Trump administration on the Palestinian issue, but such a meeting has not taken place. In response, Netanyahu told Bennett the matter would be discussed Sunday afternoon in a security cabinet meeting.

Senior figures in Likud and Habayit Hayehudi involved in advancing the bill said the legislation would be discussed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but no vote would be taken. A discussion of Israel’s policy vis-à-vis the Trump administration and the annexation of Ma'ale Adumim, they said, would be discussed immediately afterwards in the security cabinet meeting.

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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.

Ever since Trump won the elections, Bennett has been pressuring Netanyahu, both publicly and in private conversations, to repudiate his agreement to “a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel,” which he stated in his speech at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009.

Bennett has said in closed conversations over the past two weeks that he had received messages from Trump’s advisers that the new administration is not bound by the two-state solution paradigm and is waiting to hear from Israel what its policy is on the Palestinian issue.

On Saturday night, Netanyahu posted a video to his Facebook page stating that one of the main issue he would be bringing up with Trump in their first meeting was the Iranian threat, and that he intended to talk to the new U.S. president “about ways to oppose the threat of the Iranian regime, which calls for the destruction of Israel.”

Bennett responded to Netanyahu's video within one minute on Twitter: “Iran is an important issue but preventing another Iran in the heart of Judea and Samaria is no less important.” Bennett wrote that “a historic opportunity must not be missed to prevent Palestine on Highway 6 on the pretext of the Iranian threat," referring to a major toll road bordering the West Bank.

In a further tweet, Bennett wrote that Trump’s entry to the White House was a new era. “For the first time in 50 years, the prime minister can decide: either sovereignty or Palestine. The continuation of the Bar-Ilan/Palestine line will be a disaster for generations to come. We will work toward sovereignty.”

E-1 Area map.Credit: Haaretz

Senior figures in Habayit Hayehudi said that Bennett believes the coming days, until Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump, are critical, and he intends to use all the political tools at his disposal to lead Netanyahu to take back his Bar-Ilan stand on a two-state solution.

“Trump will not pass us on the right,” a senior figure in Habayit Hayehudi said, adding: “Trump will also be ready for alternatives to the two-state solution and he is leaving it at Netanyahu’s doorstep. Thus opportunity must not be missed. Unfortunately, Netanyahu, who is so used to the defensive approach, runs straight to the Iranian nuclear threat to avoid major decisions.”

The bill to annex Ma’aleh Adumim seeks to apply Israeli law to the settlement, located about 7 kilometers east of Jerusalem, including the controversial area E-1, which was added to Ma’aleh Adumim’s municipal boundaries. The sponsor of the bill, MK Yoav Kish (Likud) told Haaretz that he is willing to compromise and leave E-1 out of the bill. “I don’t want anyone to say that because sovereignty was applied to E-1 as well, he doesn’t want to join the process.”

E-1 is an area of 12 square kilometers that extends north and west of Ma’aleh Adumim.

Construction in area E1, according to international critics, will cut the northern and southern West Bank from each other.

Kish added: “80 percent of the public supports applying sovereignty to Ma’aleh Adumim. At this point we will leave it to the committee discussing the bill in the Knesset to determine the boundaries of sovereignty. Authority might eventually be given to the interior minister. We don’t specifically mention E1 in the bill, and that is intentional.”

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