ארכיון התנחלות עפרה
Israeli troops overlooking the West Bank settlement of Ofra
Photo: EPA
Israeli troops overlooking the West Bank settlement of Ofra

Settlers split over Trump plan, but united on annexation

While some heads of the settlement movement have raised issues with the inclusion of a future Palestinian state, almost all share the view that this is a golden opportunity to claim West Bank land and should not be missed

Elisha Ben Kimon |
Published: 06.08.20 , 12:48
Many settler leaders have expressed concern about the implications of U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan, which ostensibly opens the door to Israel annexing West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley.
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  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that the process to annex the areas will begin on July 1.
    ארכיון התנחלות עפרהארכיון התנחלות עפרה
    Israeli troops overlooking the West Bank settlement of Ofra
    (Photo: EPA)
    But some say that the West Bank map outlined in Trump’s plan has multiple problems, such as the possibility that several settlements will become enclaves within Palestinian areas.
    Even so, almost all argue that the proposed outline should be welcomed, describing it as a “golden opportunity that might not come again.”
    Yochai Damri, the head of Har Hebron Regional Council, is one of those who has objections to Trump’s plan.
    "With a plan like this, how can we ensure the lives of our residents?" he says.
    Damri does not deny that the plan offers an historic opportunity, he does however, expresses serious concerns about the deal in its current form.
    "We see a number of problems that could immediately jeopardize the settlement enterprise and must be addressed," says Damri.
    "These are issues that we have dealt with in the past and unfortunately we understand that this is a reversal from the promises we were made in January."
    יוחאי דמרייוחאי דמרי
    Yochai Damri
    (Photo: Haim Horenstein )
    Several settler leaders traveled to Washington in January as Netanyahu was meeting with American officials in D.C., including Trump.
    According to Damri, the most pressing concern is that the plan threatens the settlers' very way of life.
    “First, we want to see and comprehend the map of [West Bank] sovereignty to ensure that various interests … are preserved," he says.
    “Secondly, I will not accept the issue of enclaves. If we have been promised that no community will be moved, there is no reason to define any community as an enclave,” he says.
    בנימין נתניהו בפגישה עם ראשי מועצת ישע יהודה ושומרון בנימין נתניהו בפגישה עם ראשי מועצת ישע יהודה ושומרון
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife Sara, meets with the settler leadership in Washington
    (Photo: Yesha Council)
    “It would be a paralyzing stroke that would effectively be a quiet disengagement. The other concern, of course, is that God forbid there would be terrorist attacks targeting these areas."
    Another problem, says Damri, is that the Trump proposal outlines plans for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
    "Every time we have handed over territory we got violence in return," he says.
    "The timescale for negotiations with the Palestinians must be laid out and it must be made clear that once that designated time period is up, the territories on offer will return to Israeli sovereignty or at least be part of Area C [under Israeli civil and military control] as they are today."
    Damri says the settlers should not reject the plan, but there are areas in which they should focus their energies.
    "It should be pushed forward, but at the same time we need to act to mitigate the harm," he says. "We believe that now the candle has been lit, we can do our utmost to change, improve and repair it and impose sovereignty without unnecessary risks."
    On the other side of the debate is Assaf Mintzer, the head of Elkana Regional Council. Mintzer regrets the statements made by some of his colleagues who are determined to scupper the process.
    אסף מינצראסף מינצר
    Assaf Mintzer
    (Photo: Shaul Golan)
    Mintzer is aware of the significant difficulties inherent in the annexation plan.
    He says, however, that he is confident that the plan is a serious one, with a solid foundation and an excellent negotiating starting point for Israel.
    "This is a golden opportunity," he says, citing the unity government and the coalition agreement between Netanyahu and his political rival-turned-ally Benny Gantz. "We cannot miss this chance."
    "The settlement project has in the past fought to have sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and [the settlement of] Ma'aleh Adumim," he says.
    פגישה של ראשי המועצות עם בנימין נתניהופגישה של ראשי המועצות עם בנימין נתניהו
    Settler leaders meet with Netanyahu and Settlement Minister Hotovely
    "Now, when we have the opportunity to apply sovereignty to all the communities and swathes of territory beyond them, how can we be the ones to oppose it? Even the great settlement leaders never dreamt that this would happen so speedily, and certainly not while being so in tune with our American friends."
    Mintzer laments the settlers who have vowed to thwart the plan, but insists they are in the minority.
    "It pains me that some of my colleagues, who are speaking out and claiming to do so as representatives of the entire settlement movement, are working to foil the plan," he says.
    Settlement leader Yossi Dagan with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman Settlement leader Yossi Dagan with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman
    Settlement leader Yossi Dagan with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman
    (Photo: Trump campaign in Israel)
    "The Yesha Council leadership, as it is styled in the media and which is most vocal about the plan, is actually a minority of 23 members of the Judea and Samaria councils and do not reflect the true reality.
    "To tell you the truth, most of the members of the Yesha Council agree with me and like me understand that shouting and swearing, besides being unworthy, will at most bring get you a place next to the media microphones, but will also stain the settlement movement and keep it out of the Israeli consensus."

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