Israel’s turn on annexation sparks right-wing anger

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Efrata (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic deal with the United Arab Emirates has been hailed abroad – but has sparked discontent among right-wing supporters and settlers over the suspension of plans to annex land.

“This agreement could signal a possible crisis in the relations of Netanyahu and many settlers and their supporters of the Israeli right,” said Yohanan Plesner, director of the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank in Jerusalem.

Figures on Israel’s nationalist right called for a replacement of Netanyahu.

Netanyahu may have “gained a few points among center-left voters, who like deals with Arabs, but he lost several points with his right-wing base” whose “dream” of annexing land has vanished, said political commentator Ben Caspit, writing in the Maariv newspaper.

The deal announced Thursday sees Israel pledging to suspend its planned annexation of Palestinian land, a concession hailed by European governments and some pro-Western Arab governments as a boost to hopes for peace.

But Netanyahu, neck-and-neck with his political rivals in the past three election campaigns, had used the annexation issue to woo radical right-wing voters and settlers.

They are fierce opponents of any return from the Palestinian territories seized by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967.

– ‘Bitter pill’ –

Netanyahu’s unity government had announced a strategy of annexing parts of the West Bank and Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, including the Jordan Valley, a strategic strip along the Jordanian border.

This plan was given the green light in January by US President Donald Trump.

But the surprise deal with the United Arab Emirates seems to put annexation on ice; The leaders of Israel, the Emirates and the United States said they had agreed “that Israel will suspend the declaration of sovereignty” over the areas of the West Bank.

The normalization agreement is only Israel’s third with an Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

For commentator Ben Caspit, the deal was motivated by opposition to annexation by members of the ruling coalition – such as Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi.

It “forced Netanyahu to recalculate,” and made him look for a way to swallow a “bitter pill” to his supporters.

But since Netanyahu has said that annexation of parts of the West Bank is only “postponed” and Israel has “not given up”, some see it as a matter of time before it resumes.

– ‘The myth is gone’ –

In Efrata, an Israeli settlement near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, local council head Oded Revivi tempered his disappointment.

“All these years people thought that peace with the Arab countries could not be made, as long as there was a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria,” he said, using the Jewish name of the West Bank.

“We see that this myth has disappeared. ”

Revivi, looking back on the decades since the 1967 war, believes that annexation has only been suspended.

“It’s been put on hold, but no one knows for how long,” Revivi added.

“We’ve been waiting for this for 53 years – maybe over 2,000 years. I’m sure it will come back to the table and much faster than you think. ”

The nationalist right reacted bitterly.

They are angry that the agreement “suspends” annexation – and thus keeps alive the idea of ​​a viable separate Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“It is tragic that Netanyahu did not seize the moment, nor the courage to apply sovereignty even over an inch of the Land of Israel, but sovereignty over the territories of our homeland will come,” he said. said Naftali Bennet, leader of the radical right. nationalist alliance Yamina.

“We cannot ignore the great dangers posed by the re-launch of talks for a Palestinian state,” said Bezalel Smotrich, another member of Yamina, who sits in the opposition and draws much of his support from the settlers.

“To face the danger, the right must present here and now an alternative” to Netanyahu’s leadership, he said.

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