In early July, a group of Knesset Members representing every party in the coalition signed onto and introduced legislation to annex the settlement of Maale Adumim to Israel. The bill enjoys the active support of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud). It is also supported by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home party). Supporters of the bill commissioned a poll which they say demonstrates that 78% of Israelis Jews back their effort.
The introduction of this bill represents an overt challenge to Netanyahu by right-wing forces within his coalition. As noted by YNet, similar legislation introduced in the last Knesset was supported by a number of Likud politicians who are ministers in the current government, most notably Yariv Levin (Likud); Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and Miri Regev. It is not yet clear where other right-wing ministers stand on the bill. Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) supports annexing settlement blocs and calls for annexing Area C; Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) calls for annexing all of Area C; and Avigdor Leiberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) lives in a West Bank settlement.
Netanyahu in the past has refused or avoided action on measures of this kind, in all likelihood because he is aware of the harsh backlash such a move would cause from the international community. Knesset Speaker Edelstein is either unbothered by such concerns (“Edelstein acknowledged that annexing of Ma’ale Adumim would prompt criticism abroad and on the extreme left, and also trigger calls on the Israeli right for the complete annexation of the West Bank”) or is playing a cynical political game designed to force Netanyahu to use up political capital preventing the bill from moving forward, while he and his fellow travelers present themselves as the standard bearers of the Israeli right.
Comment: In our discussion of the recent settlement announcements, we noted that Netanyahu is in “defiant mode,” rejecting out of hand international condemnations. This is not an isolated phenomenon. As we approach 50 years since the onset of Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, official Israel – with or without the specific support of Netanyahu in any given set of circumstances – is doubling down on occupation, rather than seeking ways to mitigate its impact, much less bring it to an end. With Israel increasingly taking steps that shout “in your face,” and with the patience of Israel’s allies wearing thin regarding policies that unabashedly seek to perpetuate occupation, lines are being drawn. Should these trends continue, as likely they will, Israel is on the brink of a major rift with even its closest allies, and unprecedented isolation.
Friends of Israel would be well advised to articulate these concerns not only to the Israeli government (which is not likely to be terribly attentive), but to the Israeli public, who are insufficiently aware of how perilous the situation is becoming.