Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told settler leaders in a meeting Tuesday that should annexation of West Bank lands be brought before the government or Knesset for approval, it would be promoted independently of the plan proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump, according to sources familiar with the content of the meeting.
After the meeting, Netanyahu's office put out a statement that the prime minister is committed to negotiations with Palestinians under the Trump plan. This means that Netanyahu's commitment would be declarative rather than written into law.
In past weeks, settlers have opposed the conditions delineated in the Trump plan, namely a freeze on settlement expansion and the isolation of some 15 settlements inside territories of a future Palestinian state, which they also oppose the establishment of.
“We face a historic opportunity to apply sovereignty to areas of Judea and Samaria [West Bank],” Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting, adding that deliberations with the United States on the matter are ongoing.
But behind closed doors, Netanyahu has assured settlers that annexation will be promoted independently of the total plan, and thus will not mean acquiescing to the aspects and preconditions which they oppose.
Benny Gantz's party, however, has opposed divorcing land annexation from the total plan proposed by the White House.
Netanyahu’s office said in response to Haaretz: “The prime minister has repeatedly said that he is committed to negotiations based on the Trump plan, while at the same time pushing forward with the sovereignty plan.”
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The two-hour meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office was attended by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a close ally of Netanyahu and heads of the Yesha Council, a group dedicated to promoting Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu and Levin called on the settler leaders to support “this historic move."
Sources who attended the meeting said it was “very emotional” and “intermittently vocal.” They added that Netanyahu claimed he too hasn’t seen the final American map outlining the parts of the West Bank that could be annexed under the plan, stressing that the map presented during the January unveiling wasn’t final.
Settler leaders concluded the meeting by saying that they are looking forward to continued dialogue with the prime minister.
Yochai Damari, head of the Mount Hebron Regional Council, told Haaretz that settlement council leaders warned Netanyahu of the Trump plan’s risks. Speaking of the current U.S. administration, he said: “We realize this historic opportunity… Sovereignty is great, but we have to ensure the sovereignty map represents the settlement’s interests, and not leaving [Israeli] enclaves in any future Palestinian state. We oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state altogether.”
Palestinian leaders have unequivocally rejected the plan proposed by the Trump administration, saying it is biased toward Israel, and called for international sanctions if Israel goes ahead with its plan for unilateral annexation.
Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a Tuesday meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee that the international community must block any Israeli moves toward annexation and prevent such "unprecedented threat to peace."
Safadi also said annexation will have dangerous consequences for Israel-Jordan relations.
On Monday evening, the Yesha Council head held a meeting with the right-wing Yamina alliance, at the end of which Yamina head Naftali Bennett said he wouldn’t support the establishment of a Palestinian state. Bennett, however, made clear that once a final map is presented to Yamina, the party will make its final decision on the matter.
Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg criticized Netanyahu, saying he continues to inflame matters in the Middle East. “This insane and messianic vision that used to be a delirious notion of a handful of people has become the getaway plan of one man, who is willing to sacrifice the State of Israel on the altar of settlements in order to escape his trial,” Zandberg said, referring to Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
As Netanyahu's target date of July 1 approaches for annexing West Bank lands, rifts and disagreements are emerging among Israeli settler leaders. Settler leaders are careful not to appear as though they totally reject the Trump plan. Instead, they are conveying that they expect the preconditions to be omitted and a greenlight for unilateral annexation while the future negotiations remain far off in the future.