The Israeli plan to annex most of the occupied West Bank is no longer only being opposed from within the coalition government, especially by the Blue and White party, but also from the opposition led by Yair Lapid. This dispute is thus between those on the right and their opposite numbers on the left, as well as internally within the right-wing circles led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the traditional right and right-wing settlers at loggerheads. Moreover, the issue is dividing the settlers themselves. Netanyahu has received neither the green light from Washington to impose Israeli sovereignty on the occupied West Bank, nor the go-ahead at home, especially from the settlers.
Netanyahu's latest attempts to unite the annexation front came in his meeting with the settler leaders and committees located in the occupied West Bank where he hoped to win them over in the confrontation with the Settlement — Yesha — Council leadership. At the meeting, some settlers expressed their opposition to the annexation plan and even accused Donald Trump of abandoning Israeli interests, while others gave their absolute support for both annexation per se and the US President's "peace plan" under which it is envisaged, as well as for Netanyahu in the confrontation with the Yesha Council. These settlers are more representative and so more important than those in the Yesha leadership because they head the major settlement councils for the Elkana settlement on land belonging to the Palestinians of Salfit; Oranit settlement in Qalqilya; and Ariel, south of Nablus. They look down on the Yesha body and consider it less prestigious and influential, as it represents smaller settlements.
The settlers who support the annexation plan believe that the Yesha Council has become a threat to the implementation of Trump's plan because its members do not appreciate its benefits and gains for the occupation state. In their view, it is an opportunity for which they have waited more than fifty years and is the plan through which they will be granted equal citizenship with those who live in Israel itself. The status quo puts settlements and settlers under the Civil Administration of the Israeli army; annexation will turn settlers into ordinary Israeli citizens. And why fear, when a Palestinian state will not materialise? That was the response to the Settlement Council, which focuses on the risks that annexation poses and oppose it accordingly.
The basic justification for the council's rejection of the annexation plan is that a Palestinian state must be established according to Trump's terms, even if it is fragmented and Netanyahu refuses to call it a state. However, the US would call it a Palestinian state and this reason alone is sufficient to reject the plan. Furthermore, Trump's plan insists that all settlement activity must be frozen during the implementation phase. Netanyahu may have said that expansion work will not stop, but American supervision of the implementation makes the Prime Minister's words worthless in this regard. The plan also stipulates that 15 settlement outposts identified by the US will be Israeli pockets in the heart of the Palestinian state. The settlers in the outposts are concerned about having to live, work and travel while surrounded by Palestinian communities. The Yesha Council believes that these provide reason enough to reject the annexation process as set out in Trump's "peace plan".
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Ayyam on 10 June 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.