Analysis: Is Netanyahu softening on annexation?


ByTovah Lazaroff
Since he was elected to the premiership in 2009 and declared his support for a Palestinian state, Netanyahu has walked a careful diplomatic tightrope.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu runs scared, he runs right.

In the aftermath of his decision to remove the metal detectors from the Temple Mount, a move that was condemned by right-wing politicians, it is to be expected that he would take steps to assuage rightwing voters, whom he considers to be his primary voting base.

Settlers were not surprised therefore by a report on Channel 2 on Thursday night, which spoke of Netanyahu’s sudden alleged support for a plan long touted by Defense Minster Avigdor Liberman to redefine Israeli final borders based on population numbers.

Under this plan, some Israeli-Arab towns and cities, particularly in the Triangle Area, would become part of a future Palestinian state, and in exchange the settlement blocs would be part of Israel’s final borders.

According to Channel 2, Netanyahu had raised the issue with the Trump Administration, in his talks with US envoy Jason Greenblatt.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to queries about the report, and a number of settler leaders immediately denounced it on three counts: they do not want to relinquish parts of sovereign Israel; they do not believe in a Palestinian state; and they reject any attempt to differentiate between settlements inside the blocs and outside the blocs.

“We support the immediate imposition of sovereignty in Gush Etzion,” said Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman. “We don’t agree, however, that in return for this right, just and necessary step, the State of Israel would hand to the Palestinian Authority portions of its homeland located in the heart of the country, and in so doing would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state along Route 6. The borders of the state must move only in one direction.”

What settlers have taken seriously is Netanyahu’s support for legislation put forward by Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud) that could be seen as annexing a ring of settlements around Jerusalem, effectively moving 125,000 settlers into the boundaries of greater Jerusalem.

This would include all the Gush Etzion communities as well as three of the larger West Bank settlements, Beitar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev.

It would also create a new independent municipality for some 100,000 Israeli-Arab residents of Jerusalem that live in sections of the city located outside the security barrier.

With Netanyahu’s support, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is expected to pass the measure in October and send it on to the Knesset for approval.

It marks the first time that Netanyahu has clearly spoken of support for a bill that would blur the boundaries of sovereign Israel.

It follows his more reluctant support for the settlements regulation bill, in which the Knesset was allowed to legislate for Area C of the West Bank.

The bill retroactively legalizes settler homes on private Palestinian property in exchange for providing the Palestinian land owners with monetary compensation.

The High Court of Justice is now ruling on the issue of whether the Knesset can pass legislation for the West Bank, without actually annexing it.

Since he was elected to the premiership in 2009 and declared his support for a Palestinian state, Netanyahu has walked a careful diplomatic tightrope.

He has looked to gain credibility on the international stage and with the US by his support for a two-state solution, while at the same time assuring right-wing voters that only he can support the settlements.

It was a balancing act made easier under former US president Barack Obama. Now that Donald Trump is in the White House, it has been harder for Netanyahu to maintain that balance, as settlers have increased the price tag for support by demanding annexation along with settlement building.

Netanyahu’s decision to create a new settlement, the first in over 20 years, would have gained him more traction among his voter base four or five years ago.

Now it seen as too little too late and has not stopped right wing politicians from proposing numerous annexation bills.

This includes in specifics a push for legislation to apply sovereignty to Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion. In addition there are calls to rescind the application of the 2005 disengagement bill to four settlements in northern Samaria, its a move that would allow for new communities to built on the ruins of the olds ones.

When it comes to the settlements, Netanyahu in the last eight years has been a master at making promises while delaying actually paying the piper.

As a result he has to verbally up the ante, in hopes that this right wing voter base will remain convinced that he intends to follow through.

It is no accident, therefore, that as talk of annexation grows stronger, Hebron residents have chosen this moment to make a play to move into a three story apartment building in advance of proving their purchase claims.

Instead of immediately booting them out of the building, the Defense Ministry is now seeking a way for them to stay.

It’s a sign of the changing times, that the families in the home, believe that after having being forcibly evicted from the structure five years ago, they will now be allowed to stay.


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