Who would have believed that out of all those opposed to the Trump administration’s Middle East plan, it would be the settler leadership that would head one of the most aggressive and passionate campaigns against it? Since the days of the Israeli right’s celebrations in Washington after the plan’s unveiling, many in the Yesha Council of settlements have had the time to read it through and examine the accompanying maps. They have realized it’s not all that great for them – far from it.
They are mainly disturbed by two issues. The first one is the symbolic recognition in principle that one day, a Palestinian state would be established alongside the State of Israel over approximately 70 percent of the area of the West Bank. That is, the end of the Greater Land of Israel vision, or at the very least a formal recognition of their willingness, in theory, to make compromises.
The second, more practical issue has to do with 15 settlements and outposts that under the Trump plan would remain as enclaves in that future state and construction there would be frozen for at least four years. During this time, Israel is supposed to negotiate with the Palestinians and keep that area for them. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman did explain that they would be able to add height to existing structures, but for now, the residents of these enclaves-to-be aren’t really buying his vision for towers with elevators.
The settlers are divided between a pragmatic faction, which is of the opinion that it’s best to snatch as much as possible from the American now, even if it comes at a heavy ideological price, and those who believe it represents nothing less than ethical bankruptcy.
That second group found a sympathetic ear with new opposition members from Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s Yamina party and Minister Rafi Peretz, who said this week that “the Deal of the Century has some very disturbing parts. We’ll go for [extending] sovereignty at full force, but won’t under any circumstances allow for a Palestinian state to be established.” Lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich told Arutz Sheva that “it isn’t a sovereignty map, but a map of the Palestinian state.”
In this context it’s interesting to read columns written by Elyakim and Boaz Haetzni, blue bloods of the settler movement. Elyakim Haetzni wrote some very sharp comments on the TV7 News website, saying that “under no circumstances should sovereignty be applied to territory as part of the Trump plan, since by doing so we’ll automatically activate the mechanism for recognizing a Palestinian state and for freezing construction in the settlements. It’s like someone kicking away the chair he’s standing on, thereby strangling himself.” His son Nadav wrote in the daily Maariv that “accepting the Trump plan will endanger the existence of the settlement enterprise and the state of Israel.” Channel 7 also reported that Avraham Shvut, among the first settlers in the West Bank, is arguing that the Trump map is more dangerous than the Oslo Accords map.
Opposing them are figures such as the head of the Efrat Council, Oded Revivi, who supports the Trump plan. The two sides are currently exchanging declarations, letters and petitions as part of a tempestuous debate.
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Washington and Jerusalem are observing all this with growing concerns, fearing that on July 1, the current target date for announcing the annexation plan, there may be increased opposition to the move within and outside the coalition, including on the right of the political map.
The Americans are sending messages to the settlers, indicating their frustration with the ingratitude shown to an administration that has brought them the best offer so far. They note that Washington will not look kindly on this recalcitrance after all it has done for the Israeli right during the Trump years. They do not deny or hide the fact that annexation of settlements comes with a price – namely, accepting the other parts of the plan.
The Americans also emphasize that the map carried by settlers lobbying the Knesset as part of their campaign is apparently not a final map, although no dramatic changes are expected in its outline. “The principle is that Israeli territory will not comprise more than 50 percent of Area C, which is 30 percent of the total West Bank area,” Ambassador Friedman told the daily Israel Hayom.
At the same time, attention to arguments in the Middle East is waning in Washington. The coronavirus pandemic, the approaching election, the conflict with China and other topics are bypassing Israeli friends and lowering the White House’s wish to confront Israel or the Palestinians.
This is not the first time that heated arguments have arisen among settler leaders, divided along pragmatic and ideological lines. In fact, this happens every time they are asked to sketch the diplomatic solution they envisage. Over the years, attempts have been made to present such a plan, each time evoking the same bedeviling question: Is the whole Land of Israel more important, or is attaining whatever parts one can as part of a solution?
Should one oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state at any price or should one accept the fact that ultimately there will be one? It’s the people espousing compromise versus those espousing principles. As the date for annexation nears, assuming it is launched at the planned date, this dispute will become more acute.