Israeli Party Approves Annexation Plan to Coerce Palestinian Departure

With a stamp of Netanyahu approval, right-wing party conference discusses their plan to annex the Palestinian territories and offer a surrender-or-transfer ultimatum

Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger
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MK Bezalel Smotrich at National Union conference, September 12, 2017.
Prestige.Item.1.19462951Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

The conference of the National Union faction, which has MKs in the Habayit Hayehudi Knesset party, approved a plan Tuesday for essentially annexing the territories while either facilitating the exit of Palestinian residents or allowing them to remain but without voting rights.

The approval of the plan, dubbed by its supporters “The Decision Plan,” has been actively promoted by Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich. It aims to “alter the discourse and present a true alternative to any plan based on dividing the land,” according to a National Union statement.

“After a hundred years of managing the conflict, the time has come for a decision,” Smotrich told the assembly. “The principles [of the left] have within a few years become accepted by growing parts of the Israeli leadership. First on the left, and later, unfortunately, also on the right, which to a great extent has lost its belief in the justice of our path and has been dragged toward the two-state solution.

“The vision of the decision plan is not new,” Smotrich said. “These are the foundations on which Zionism was erected. We do not assume that there are two narratives here that are equal. There’s one side that’s correct, and another that is undermining the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.”

Smotrich added, “We have to engrave in the consciousness of the Arabs and the entire world that there is no chance of establishing an Arab state in the Land of Israel.”

The plan was unanimously approved by the delegates present, who included Habayit Hayehudi MKs Smotrich, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, and MK Moti Yogev. Party chairman Naftali Bennett, however, did not attend the conference, nor did he send a recorded message, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did.

The Smotrich plan presents a kind of surrender-or-transfer ultimatum to the Palestinians in which “two alternatives will be offered to the Arabs of the Land of Israel:

“1. Anyone who is willing and able to relinquish the fulfillment of his national aspirations will be able to stay here and live as an individual in the Jewish state.

“2. Anyone who is unwilling or unable to relinquish his national aspirations will receive assistance from us to emigrate to one of the Arab countries.

There is also a third option.

“Anyone who insists on choosing the third ‘option’ – to continue to resort to violence against the Israel Defense Forces, the State of Israel and the Jewish population will be determinedly handled by the security forces with greater force than at present and under more comfortable conditions for us.”

The plan further calls for a “settlement decision.”

Smotrich proposes offering “self-government” to the Arabs in the occupied territories, who “would be divided into three regional municipal governments that will vote in democratic elections,” based on districts.

According to the plan, “These governments suit the cultural and extended-family structure of Arab society.” The objective is “to dismantle the Palestinian national collective.” It is stressed that “the Arabs of Judea and Samaria will be able to conduct their own daily lives, but in the first stage will not be able to vote for the Israeli Knesset.”

As Smotrich himself wrote in the past about the plan, “The big challenge in this context will be the democratic challenge; the need to persuade the world that among all the different alternatives, the alternative of democratic rights without the right to vote for the Knesset is the least bad alternative. It is indeed a challenge, but we can meet it.”

Racists? Us?

National Union members seem offended when asked to explain why their plan isn’t racist. “God forbid,” said party secretary Ofir Sofer. “It’s clear that there are difficulties in discussing this using the concepts we have today. But it’s not racist,” he said.

Sofer added that although the plan uses the term “the Arabs of the Land of Israel,” it does not mean that Israeli Arab citizens would lose their citizenship.

“The plan proposes citizenship,” he adds. “In the long term it proposes this. [Even today] Israeli Arabs don’t serve in the army and the Arabs of East Jerusalem don’t vote for the Knesset. That’s why I think it isn’t racist. You can’t create two contradictory realities – of settlement and the Palestinian Authority. But I would never vote for a racist plan.”

Sofer also protests the use of the term “transfer.” “Where do we talk about transfer?” he asks. “We’re talking about encouraging emigration. We have this for the Eritreans, etc. We are aiming here exactly at those terror operatives, those who support terror. Are you in favor of encouraging emigration of Eritreans and not of terrorists?”

As far as an explanation as to what will constitute “handling by the security forces” that the plan warns about for those who refuse to leave and retain national aspirations, both the plan and Sofer are vague.

Smotrich’s program may sound ephemeral, but it received recognition from Netanyahu, who sent a videotaped message of support to the conference.

“I was happy to hear that you are devoting the discussions at the conference to the subject of the future of the Land of Israel. Up until not so many years ago, this country was deserted and abandoned, but since we returned to Zion, after generations of exile, the Land of Israel is flourishing,” said Netanyahu in the recorded greeting.

The prime minister added: “Within less than 70 years, we have succeeded in building a prosperous country, a world leader in economics, technology, security, agriculture, cybersecurity, health and many other fields. We are building the country and settling it in the mountains, the valleys, the Galilee, the Negev and in Judea and Samaria too, because this is our country. We have been given the privilege of living in the land, and we have an obligation to guard it carefully.”

The premier’s greeting got rather weak applause. The most common explanation for this among the National Union activists is their belief that Netanyahu doesn’t really believe in the plan, but was just trying to pass Habayit Hayehudi’s Bennett on the right. “He’s winking at the right,” said one delegate. “He understands that the votes are on the right,” said another.

For Agriculture Minister Ariel, it’s enough that Netanyahu is paying attention.

“The Decision Plan is an important plan, particularly from the perspective of awareness,” Ariel said. “It’s not enough that there are half a million Jews in Judea and Samaria, and with God’s help there will be a million. We have to reach awareness, to recognize the justice [of Israeli rule and settlement in the West Bank]. To say, “Honorable Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, there is not and will never be two states between the Jordan and the sea.’ I have told him many times, ‘You know there will never be two states.’ But the comments day and night about two states undermine and erode awareness of the justice of our path, that the Land of Israel is ours.”

Bennett’s absence from the conference was no coincidence; those who know him say the education minister isn’t very excited about Smotrich’s proposals. A few years ago Bennett presented his own “Pacification Plan,” which included annexation of some parts of the territories but didn’t include any mechanism for a population transfer.

Although Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union are closely affiliated and have been running together for Knesset, Bennett’s associates say he knows he will never be able to reach the political heights he’s seeking – in other words, the prime ministership – on a joint list with the National Union. He believes that a list which includes political views such as Smotrich’s can never be a ruling party. Their alliance has been a strategic one, but if he had an opportunity to run with a party that could attract more centrist votes, he would be happy to part ways with it.

Ariel is well aware of this. That’s why, in his address, he called on Bennett to preserve the alliance. “I call to my colleague and friend, Minister Bennett – unity is a value. And when it comes to politics, it can bring far greater achievements than other things. That’s why we at the National Union are fighting for the unity of the camp.”

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