(January 30, 2020 / JNS) The release of U.S. President Trump’s plan for peace in the Middle East has led to significant debate within Israel’s political world. The combination of the plan allowing for immediate Israeli control over all areas with Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, in addition to the establishment of a path towards a Palestinian state in four years, has led to a wide range of reactions in the Knesset.
Likud Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who accompanied Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington for the big announcement, told JNS that “this is a historic day and a massive victory for the policies that the prime minister has implemented. Our settlements in Judea and Samaria are now an inseparable part of Israel with full American recognition. We will continue to strengthen our connection to these areas of our homeland.”
The Blue and White Party ignored Netanyahu’s role in the plan’s development, praising Trump for an “important and historic speech,” and saying that the new Middle East proposal “definitely fits with the security and diplomatic principles of Blue and White.”
The party’s official statement labeled it “a strong and good base for moving forward with a peace arrangement with the Palestinians while protecting the arrangements that Israel has with Jordan and Egypt and expanding those to other countries in the region.”
Blue and White, which is contending with Likud to lead Israel, made sure to declare that “in order to apply the plan, Israel must move forward with a strong and stable government led by someone whose complete time is dedicated to strengthening its security and future,” as opposed to the party’s designated heavy-hitter Netanyahu, who will now have to focus on his trial for multiple corruption charges.
Former Justice Minister and Knesset member Ayelet Shaked from the Yamina Party told JNS that “we are in a historic moment for the State of Israel. When Naftali Bennett and I began talking about Israeli control over Judea and Samaria in 2012, people thought we were crazy. Seven years have passed, and we have arrived at this moment.”
Bennett, chairman of the Yamina Party and Israel’s current Defense Minister, wasted no time in reacting, saying “history is knocking on the door. Now the theater moves from the White House in Washington to the government room in Jerusalem. This cannot be pushed off until after the election, and we should not settle for partial control. We should take it all now.”
‘A historic opportunity to draw Israel’s future borders’
Almost immediately following the announcement of the Trump plan, Netanyahu’s spokesman tweeted that this Sunday, the cabinet will vote on applying Israeli control to all Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
However, that tweet was deleted a few hours later, after Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner told CNN, “I do not think this will take place in the next government meeting, at least according to what I know.”
Nevertheless, Bennett said he would establish a special team to lead the effort to annex Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley.
Despite Blue and White saying it will vote against any unilateral actions at this time, there would be a majority to pass this decision in the Knesset: Netanyahu’s 55-seat right-wing/religious bloc, along with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu with its eight seats.
Lieberman voiced support for the plan and even took credit for parts of it, praising Trump for the fact that “as part of his peace plan, he adopted my plan for land and population swaps that I publicized in 2004.”
Gantz also declared on Wednesday that he would bring the peace initiative before a Knesset plenum next week for a vote.
“This is a historic opportunity to draw Israel’s future borders,” he said during an address at the Institute for National Security Studies conference.
‘Fraud of the century’
The Israeli left and the Arab parties were quick to criticize the plan.
Labor Knesset member Itzik Shmuli told JNS that the so-called “deal of the century” is the “fraud of the century” that will not lead to peace, but rather to unilateral annexation.
“The immediate annexation of wide territories and isolated settlements that do not contribute to security negates the important recognition of the two-state solution, rejects any chance to achieve separation and will bring the fatal demand for a single state, which contradicts our national and security interests,” he said.
“As a basis for negotiation, the plan contains positive elements relating to Israel’s position on core issues and its security requirements, but the green light for annexation undermines its foundation,” said Shmuli. “Netanyahu, considering his personal legal situation and certainly in light of the non-elected government, does not have the mandate for such monumental decisions, which should be postponed until after the elections.”
Meretz Party chair Nitzan Horowitz said “Netanyahu has no mandate to take any action, and certainly not to annex parts of the territories. This type of annexation is destructive. On the eve of an election, as the prime minister of an interim government who will be standing in judgement for serious crimes, he and his government have no legitimization to unilaterally annex any piece of land.”
Joint Arab List chairman Ayman Odeh told JNS that he rejects the entire plan, but takes specific issue with the part which suggests that some Arab towns in Israel become part of the future state of Palestine.
“This is a green light to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian-Arab citizens who live in northern Israel,” declared the Knesset member, calling it “the inevitable end point of Trump and [Netanyahu]’s racist agenda.”
It should be noted that the Mideast plan specifically says that such a move is “subject to the agreement of the parties,” and that no one will be stripped of their Israeli citizenship against their will.
‘Cautions during an interim government’
Despite strong support for giving Israel the right to full control over the Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria, the prime minister faces serious challenges to the second part of the plan, which forges a path towards a Palestinian state.
Shaked told JNS that this is “dangerous,” and Bennett made it clear that his party “will not allow the Israeli government to recognize a Palestinian state in any situation. We will not allow Israel to hand a centimeter of land to the Arabs.”
Even if the Israeli government chooses to move forward with annexation with U.S. support, it may face a challenge from the Israeli justice apparatus, given the government’s status as “interim” as the country heads to an election.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said “we must help a government implement its policies, but be cautious to have restraint during an interim government. We will see what the rush is for the issue, listen and decide.”
While Israeli elections have not focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years, the unveiling of Trump’s Mideast peace initiative has returned the issue to the forefront, and will clearly be a talking point—and, perhaps, a sticking point—as Israelis head to the polls on March 2.
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