The far-right Israeli education minister, Naftali Bennett, has vowed to introduce a bill this month to formally annex Maale Adumim, one of Israel’s largest settlement blocks in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In remarks made at a museum in the city of 40,000 located outside Jerusalem, Bennett said: “After being here for 50 years, the time has come to end military rule.”
The hardline leader of the Jewish Home party also made clear that he saw the annexation of Maale Adumim as a first step in annexing all of “area C”, the part of the occupied territories still under full Israeli control.
“For this reason,” said Bennett, “by the end of the month, we will submit the bill for applying [Israeli] law to Judea and Samaria [the name used by Israelis for the occupied territories] and will embark on a new path. We will present to the cabinet a bill for applying Israeli law in Maale Adumim.”
The timing of Bennett’s announcement, and of his plan to introduce the legislation in the first place, appears to have been designed to exploit the inauguration of Donald Trump on 20 January. The US president-elect has indicated he will be more supportive of Israel in international arenas that regard the settlements as illegal.
Bennett’s call also comes soon after the adoption by the UN security council of a resolution reiterating that Jewish settlements on land intended for a future Palestinian state represent a “flagrant violation” of international law and an obstacle to a two-state solution.
Bennett, who has long set out his political stall as a nationalist, settlement-supporting and pro-annexation opponent of such a two-state solution, told supporters he saw Trump’s inauguration as a “small window of opportunity” to annex Area C, starting with Maale Adumim.
His view is opposed by both allies of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the leader of the opposition, Isaac Herzog, who warned at the weekend that supporting annexation was “brainwashing the public with lies, such as claiming that we can annex Area C and the world will allow it”. Netanyahu has instructed the ministers in his coalition not to talk about annexation.
The prime minister, whose support in the polls has been slipping, was interviewed on Monday by police as part of their investigation into whether he broke the law by receiving gifts from wealthy businessmen. He denies any wrongdoing, and has decried “years of daily persecution against me and my family”.
Amid Netanyahu’s political and legal problems, Bennett appears to have become increasingly emboldened, seeking in recent weeks to capitalise on indications that a Trump presidency may align more closely with his political viewpoint.
It began with a speech to the Saban forum in Washington in December and continued with an interview in the rightwing, English-language Jerusalem Post on Monday in which Bennett again made clear his opposition to a Palestinian state.
“I do not believe in a second Palestinian state beyond what we have in Gaza,” Bennett told the paper, saying that instead he proposed a staged end of Israeli military rule in Area C while offering full Israeli citizenship to the 80,000 Palestinians living there.
For their part Jewish settlements in the West Bank would be incorporated into Israel while the remaining areas under Palestinian administration – known as Areas A and B – would be given a degree of autonomy short of statehood.
“This would be less than a state, but [it would still be] a lot,” he said. “They would have a central government with elections, if they so choose.”
In a question and answer session with the Washington Post on Monday Bennett denied that his plan violated international law, despite the clear view of UN security council resolutions over the years as well as widespread international consensus on the issue.
“It does not violate international law because that would suggest that we occupy a state,” he said. “We don’t. There was never a Palestinian state. The British conquered the land from the Turks, the Jordanians illegally conquered the West Bank from the British, and then we released it.”
Bennett’s proposal does not tally with Israeli political consensus, with only about a third of voters supporting annexation.
However, his recent success pushing a weakened Netanyahu into supporting another piece of legislation – a proposal to retroactively legalise illegal Jewish outposts built on private Palestinian land – has underlined Bennett’s skills in leveraging the right of the country’s political debate.
Source: The Guardian