Netanyahu and settlers clash over West Bank annexation plans
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has harshly criticized Jewish West Bank settler leaders for disparaging President Donald Trump over what they perceive to be his less than adequate plan allowing Israel to annex parts of the West Bank.
Despite what is widely viewed as a pro-Israel peace plan, settler leaders have voiced concern that the maps they have seen leave many settlements as isolated enclaves. They also reject any recognition of a Palestinian state, as outlined in the American plan, and have pressed Netanyahu to make changes.
On Wednesday, David Elhayani, chairman of the umbrella Yesha Council representing the settlers, told the Haaretz daily that the plan proved Trump was “not a friend of Israel.”
Netanyahu, having just met settler leaders to hear their grievances, lashed back.
“President Trump is a great friend of Israel’s. He has led historic moves for Israel’s benefit,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday. “It is regrettable that instead of showing gratitude, there are those who are denying his friendship.”
Speaker of Parliament Yariv Levin, who has been involved in implementing the plan, went even further, calling Elhayani’s remarks “rude and irresponsible.” He said they exhibited an ungratefulness that was particularly damaging at a time when there was “an important effort to advance the historic process of applying sovereignty” to parts of the West Bank.
Netanyahu has announced that he will annex parts of the West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley and dozens of Jewish settlements, in line with Trump’s Mideast plan. He has signaled he will begin moving forward with annexation next month.
The U.S. plan envisions leaving about one third of the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, under permanent Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians expanded autonomy in the remainder of the territory. The Palestinians, who seek all of the West Bank as part of an independent state, have rejected the plan, saying it unfairly favors Israel.
They have already cut off key security ties with Israel and say they are no longer bound to agreements signed. On Thursday, the Palestinians announced they would refuse to accept the tax money Israel routinely collects for them. The moves have raised concerns of a return to violence if the plan is actually carried out.
The annexation plan has also come under harsh criticism from some of Israel’s closest allies, who say that unilaterally redrawing the Mideast map would destroy any lingering hopes for establishing a Palestinian state and reaching a two-state peace agreement.