Netanyahu urged to grab West Bank territory under peace deal
Anshel Pfeffer, Jerusalem
Thursday January 30 2020, 12.00am GMT, The Times
A Palestinian protester is detained by Israeli soldiers at a demonstration against the proposals near the West Bank village of Tubas yesterday
Binyamin Netanyahu is under pressure from his right-wing coalition partners to immediately annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, following the unveiling of President Trump’s peace plan on Tuesday.
Under the Trump plan Israel will be allowed to extend its sovereignty to around 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank, including all the settlements and the strategically important Jordan Valley region. The rest of the territory is earmarked for a future Palestinian state. There is no clear timetable or pathway for this plan and the Palestinians have already rejected it.
Despite this, hardliners in the Israeli government are demanding immediate action. Yesterday Naftali Bennett, the defence minister and leader of a far-right party in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, said: “If we postpone or reduce the extension of sovereignty [in the West Bank] then the opportunity of the century will turn into the loss of the century.”
Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip protest yesterday against President Trump’sMiddle East peace plan. However, support from other Arab nations for the Palestinian rejection of the deal has been lukewarm
IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTASFA/REUTERS
He announced that his ministry had already formed a team to plan the annexation, and criticised the prime minister for not going ahead immediately.
The messages from Mr Netanyahu’s inner circle on how quickly he intends to move have been mixed. After his joint appearance in Washington on Tuesday with President Trump, one of his press officers tweeted that the decision to annex would be brought to the Israeli cabinet meeting this Sunday.
But the tweet was later deleted and followed by a statement from one of the ministers accompanying Mr Netanyahu in Washington that the legal procedures meant it would take another week before cabinet could vote. After Mr Bennett’s criticism, however, a new statement came from the prime minister’s entourage, saying that a special cabinet meeting would be convened on Tuesday. A senior source in Mr Netanyahu’s office then told Israeli reporters that before the annexation could be decided upon, “complex preparation” would be needed.
The shifting Israeli position may be a result of the Trump administration rowing back. Following the presentation of the Trump plan on Tuesday, the US ambassador to Jerusalem, David Friedman, suggested that Israel could go ahead with the annexation. However, a day later he told reporters that first a “joint committee” involving Israel and the US would need to form and come up with a plan.
The apparent delay is fuelling speculation that Mr Netanyahu was interested in the Trump plan mainly as an election gimmick and as a diversion from his own legal troubles.
Israel will go to the polls for a third time on March 2, after Mr Netanyahu failed twice in 2019 to form a government. His rivals accuse him of using the Trump plan to drown out coverage of the criminal indictments filed against him this week in Jerusalem’s District Court.