Netanyahu's Party Votes to Annex West Bank, Increase Settlements

While most Likud ministers support the move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not commented; however, he hasn't prevented the vote, which he did with contentious issues in the past

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Members of the ruling Likud party vote on a resolution calling on Israel to move to annex the West Bank and build more settlements. December 31, 2017
Members of the ruling Likud party vote on a resolution calling on Israel to move to annex the West Bank and build more settlements. December 31, 2017Credit: Meged Gozani
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The Likud Central Committee voted Sunday to unanimously accept a resolution that calls on the party's leaders to move to formally annex the West Bank.

The vote by the ruling party is nonbinding and was called for in a letter signed by some 900 members of the central committee.

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The wording of the resolution states: “On the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the regions of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], including Jerusalem our eternal capital, the Likud Central Committee calls on the Likud’s elected officials to act to allow free construction and to apply the laws of Israel and its sovereignty to all liberated areas of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.”

Most of the Likud ministers in the government support the resolution.

Members of the ruling Likud party vote on a resolution calling on Israel to move to annex the West Bank and build more settlements. December 31, 2017Credit: Meged Gozani

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not present at the event, but over 1,000 people attended, including former education minister and Netanyahu rival Gideon Sa'ar, who called on Likud to support the move.

"It is going to happen in a few years. Let us lead Likud. All big historical moves were led by Likud and it is our generation's goal to remove any question mark looming over the future of the settlements," Sa'ar said.

In the past, Netanyahu would have prevented such meetings being called to discuss ideological issues, saying it had a diplomatic cost overseas while having little significance in Israel. This time, though, he chose not to intervene.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning that the resolution was “good and important.” She said she believed it would pass by “a very large majority of Likud Central Committee members.”

Labor Minister Haim Katz said: “We express what the Likud Central Committee is thinking.” And Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis said, “The first clause in the Likud constitution is that the right to Israel was given to the Jewish people. Two states for two peoples is a concept that has disappeared from the world. And to my joy, U.S. President [Donald] Trump is sitting in the White House and does not accept this mistaken concept.”

Self boycott?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting, in Jerusalem, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. Credit: Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP

The vote came hours after the Likud-led government gave final approval to a cooperation agreement with the European Union that contains a provision excluding the settlements. With the approval of the agreement, Israel now de facto agrees to a boycott of the settlements.

Even though Regev filed an objection to the agreement concerning cross-border cooperation in the Mediterranean area, she was the only one who did and the agreement with the EU was approved automatically – after Netanyahu approved the deal a week ago.

In accordance with the EU's standing policy, the terms of the ENI CBC Med agreement include a territorial provision explicitly excluding grants to Israel for projects beyond its 1967 borders – meaning potential recipients in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights cannot participate in the program.

The EU agreement has also been signed by the Justice Ministry, headed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and the Foreign Ministry, which led the efforts to have Israel participate in the program. Tzipi Hotovely serves as deputy foreign minister under Netanyahu. Both Hotovely and Shaked have spoken out strongly about boycotts against the settlements, but neither filed an objection to the EU agreement.

As Haaretz first disclosed two weeks ago, Netanyahu's approval of the agreement would have been final automatically if no cabinet ministers had filed objections to it by the beginning of January. In practice, the agreement consents to a European funding boycott of the settlements.

In addition to Regev, several other cabinet members recently approached Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely about the agreement, whose ministry led efforts to have Israel participate in the program. Hotovely asked her ministry's European division and legal department to examine the issue.

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