Netanyahu meets with settlement leaders angry over Trump plan

Over 20,000 Jewish residents live in towns that would become isolated enclaves in the context of the Trump plan.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with settlement leaders from Judea and Samaria who are opposed to the Trump Mideast peace plan on Tuesday. Although annexation is their fondest wish, they fear that in the context of Trump’s plan many of them will be cut off, turned into isolated enclaves and swallowed into a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu promised he would protect Israel’s interests. He said the Jewish state has been presented with “a historic opportunity that cannot be missed.”

While the U.S. administration’s plan allows for sovereignty to be applied over large settlement blocs near the 1967 armistice lines, it leaves many smaller, more isolated settlements linked to Israel only by narrow access roads. Some of the settlements affected are Beit Haggai, Elon Moreh, Bracha, Yitzhar, Ateret, Karmi Tzur and Otniel.

There are over 20,000 Jewish residents living in these towns and others in the territories.

Yisrael Gantz, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, an area in Samaria to the north of Jerusalem comprising 49 settlements, told Yediot Ahronot on Tuesday, “Given this situation of a lack of consideration for Jewish settlement, we forego sovereignty.”

“Until recently, the prime minister included us in what he’s doing. Now he chooses to act differently, which is a worrying sign. If we do not see change, we will have no choice but to oppose the plan and fight it. I expect the prime minister to bring about the historic justice of Israeli sovereignty in the heart of the country,” Gantz said.

Netanyahu has been keeping the details of the annexation maps a closely guarded secret, according to reports. Even his top ministers haven’t seen them, the Walla website reported on Monday.

Knesset Member Bezalel Smotrich of the right-wing Yemina party nevertheless claimed on IDF Radio Tuesday that Israel had given a map to the Americans three weeks ago which he described as “reasonable.” The Americans, however, returned a different map that was “very bad and breaks settlement contiguity.”

Netanyahu has made an effort to reach out to settlement leaders in recent days in order to soften their opposition. In an interview with Makor Rishon on Friday, he said that the issues of sovereignty and a Palestinian state are separate. There wouldn’t be any government decision regarding the recognition of a Palestinian state, he said. “As I said in Washington, I am prepared to conduct negotiations on the basis of the Trump plan.”

Netanyahu also said in the interview that the Trump plan signaled a revolutionary change. Past U.S. administrations put the onus for peace on Israel. Trump’s plan asks something of the Palestinians, he said.

The prime minister noted that the Palestinians are expected to give up the ‘right of return,’ accept Israeli security control over the territories, and recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Jerusalem as Israel’s united capital, among other demands.

Those on the Right in favor of Netanyahu’s plan argue that the Palestinians have never agreed to any of these conditions and are unlikely to start now so that the danger of a Palestinian state being created are zero. They say that Israel will only gain by annexing the territory and that the downside that settlements fear will never come to pass due to the Palestinians’ own intransigence.

Netanyahu has promised to bring forward legislation concerning annexation as soon as July 1.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the IDF to prepare for annexation.

“I instructed the chief of staff and the defense minister to analyze all the necessary options so that we can move forward with the Palestinian Authority in the spirit of the Trump program,” Gantz said.