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Israel postpones vote on settlement annexation bill after pressure from Trump

Jan. 22, 2017 10:23 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 23, 2017 9:18 A.M.)
Palestinian children play near the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. AFP: Ahman Gharabli
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- According to reports from Israeli media, a vote on a bill seeking to annex the occupied West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim that was set to be voted on Sunday was postponed at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following pressure from the administration of US President Donald Trump.

Israel's ultra-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been keen to introduce the bill, with its introduction having reportedly been delayed until Trump's inauguration, as the new American head of state has come out as a vocal supporter of illegal Israeli settlements.

However, Israeli daily Haaretz reported Sunday morning that Netanyahu called Bennett on Friday and asked him to postpone the bill after Trump advisers said that “no unilateral steps should be taken by Israel” until a meeting is held between Netanyahu and Trump.

While the Maale Adumim bill was still expected to be discussed before Israel's Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported that the committee had decided not to vote on the bill on Sunday.

The legislation reportedly would be further discussed in Netanyahu’s weekly security cabinet meeting later Sunday afternoon, when Netanyahu is also expected to present Israeli policy regarding the new Trump administration.

Israeli news site also Arutz Sheva reported that an Israeli official close to Trump refuted claims that the Trump administration asked Netanyahu "not to surprise them" by voting on the bill, and that Israel should rather "work as fast as possible so as not to miss any opportunities."

According to sponsor of the bill MK Yoav Kish of the Likud party, 80 percent of the Israeli public supports applying Israeli sovereignty to Maale Adumim, Haaretz reported.

Meanwhile, the Netanyahu-Trump meeting is reportedly set to take place in early February, when the two could coordinate over a possible shift in Israeli and American policy towards the decades-long illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, which has until now rested on achieving the two-state solution.

Bennett has repeatedly asked Netanyahu to rescind his support for the two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state, which Bennett perceives to be a security threat to the state of Israel.

According to Haaretz, the education minister has said in recent private conversations that he had received messages from Trump’s advisers that the new US administration is “not bound by the two-state solution paradigm and is waiting to hear from Israel what its policy is on the Palestinian issue.”

Netanyahu meanwhile posted a video Saturday night saying he was planning to speak with Trump about “the Iran threat,” to which Bennett immediately responded in a tweet saying, "Iran is important, but preventing a second Iran in the heart of Judea and Samaria is no less important,” using an Israeli term for the occupied West Bank.

In recent days, activists have set up a protest village to demonstrate against the bill to illegally annex Maale Adumim and apply Israeli law there, while the Palestinian presidency said Friday that the legislation would “end any connection to any peace process, particularly if it is accompanied by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem,” and that the measure “will lead to a new phase that cannot be controlled.”

Maale Adumim is the third largest settlement in population size, encompassing a large swath of land deep inside the occupied West Bank. Many Israelis consider it an Israeli suburban city of Jerusalem, despite it being located on occupied Palestinian territory in contravention of international law.

Calls to annex the massive settlement -- to pave the way for the annexation of the majority of the occupied West Bank -- have gained momentum among reactionary Israel’s lawmakers and ministers following the passage of a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements and reaffirming their clear illegality.

Sponsor of the bill MK Yoav Kish intended for the legislation to not only annex Maale Adumim, but also the controversial E1 corridor surrounding it, where Israel has escalated a vicious demolition campaign against Bedouin Palestinian communities over the past year. However, he has said he would be willing to compromise and leave E1 out of the bill if the issue proves to be a sticking point.

Settlement construction in E1 would effectively divide the West Bank in half and make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state -- as envisaged by the internationally backed two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- almost impossible.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been widely criticized for publicly claiming to advocate a two-state solution while simultaneously championing settlement policy to appeal to an increasingly right-wing government and Israeli public.

“His current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” former US Secretary of State John Kerry said in speech earlier this month. “The result is that policies of this government -- which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’ -- are leading in the opposite direction, toward one state,” Kerry said.

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right, with more than 50 percent of the ministers in the current Israeli government having publicly stated they are opposed to a Palestinian state.

A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
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