Leaders of the settlement movement on Sunday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of betraying them in pursuit of ties with Gulf states, following his announcement that he was putting annexation of portions of the West Bank on hold, in exchange for full formal relations with the United Arab Emirates.
Meanwhile Netanyahu dismissed their criticism as being unserious, provoking further anger.
In an interview with Radio Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Samaria Regional Council chief Yossi Dagan accused Netanyahu of “a stab in the back,” saying that he was “disappointed, hurt and angry” by the prime minister’s decision to go back on his promise to apply sovereignty to parts of the territories.
There is a “limit to deception and there is a limit to cynicism,” he said.
Israel and the UAE reached a historic agreement on Thursday to set up full diplomatic relations between the two countries, the third such deal the Jewish state has struck with an Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan. As part of that deal, Israel agreed to suspend West Bank annexation plans.
Dagan said that the settlement movement had stuck by Netanyahu despite his support for the 2005 disengagement, his withdrawal from the majority of Hebron in the 1990s, and his 2009-2010 settlement freeze, but that reneging on his annexation guarantee was a “step too far.”
Netanyahu was “tearing up trust between him and the national camp,” he said, referring to the right, because of his “abandonment of Judea and Samaria.” Dagan said he would be meeting with colleagues to discuss their position on the prime minister in light of recent events.
Dagan later told Channel 12 that “what was, is not what will be,” in terms of settler ties with Netanyahu, and that the prime minister was “sawing off the branch he’s sitting on.”
In a separate interview with 103FM on Sunday, David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council and the Yesha Council of West Bank mayors, said that Netanyahu had wasted “a historic opportunity to apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea and the settlements” and that he had misled voters about his intentions.
Annexation of West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley had been a campaign promise of Netanyahu’s over three elections in the past 16 months.
Elhayani accused Netanyahu of lacking the “leadership courage” of Likud Party founder and former prime minister Menachem Begin, whose government annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Asked if he considered the prime minister a leftist, he replied that if one “examines his actions” then it is apparent that “he is left and not right.”
During a previous radio appearance last week, Elhayani said that if Netanyahu had truly given up on the plan to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements then he “needs to be replaced.”
Despite Elhayani’s claims that Netanyahu “deceived” settlers, Likud officials who spoke with Channel 12 blamed the movement’s own leadership for the government’s failure to apply sovereignty, stating that “no matter what we brought to the table, they were not happy” and asserting they had attempted to rile up US President Donald Trump’s evangelical base against the White House’s peace proposal.
In an interview with Army Radio Sunday, Netanyahu dismissed right-wing criticism.
“The same people who now tell me to apply sovereignty [in the West Bank] told me several months ago that we must not apply sovereignty because it will lead to a Palestinian state,” the premier said. “This is not serious.”
Those comments infuriate Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council.
In a statement, Dagan said that Netanyahu “has failed embarrassingly to fulfill his central promise in three election cycles that gave him the victory.” Now, he added, the premier “is adding insult to injury and adopting the rhetoric of the extreme left by blaming the settler movement for everything.”
Yisrael Gantz, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, accused Netanyahu of “misleading the public” and said the premier had promised “sovereignty without a Palestinian state.”
“If your intention had been to promote annexation with a Palestinian state, it is good that you shelved it and it is good that we fought it, but it is a shame that you didn’t inform the Israeli public,” Gantz said. “Don’t try to cast us now as extremists.”
Not all settlement leaders took a hard line against Netanyahu in the wake of Thursday’s announcement, however.
Efrat Local Council chairman Oded Revivi stated that the UAE deal was “good news for settlement.” While it was “not the dream we dreamed of… it is definitely a step in the right direction,” religious Zionist news site Kipa reported him saying.
The Israeli agreement to postpone the application of Israeli law in the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria is a fair price.
— Oded Revivi עודד רביבי (@odedrevivi) August 13, 2020
According to Revivi, the settlements have been held up as an obstacle to regional peace efforts for years. But Israel’s burgeoning relations with the Gulf states proved that “peace can come even without displacing Jews from their homes.”
Netanyahu insisted Thursday that his plan to apply Israeli sovereignty to some 30 percent of the West Bank, covering the settlements and the Jordan Valley, had been only “temporarily halted” at the request of US President Donald Trump, but that he remained “committed” to implementing it in full coordination with the US.
Politicians to Netanyahu’s right harshly criticized him for last week, with Yamina chief MK Naftali Bennett accusing him of having “missed a once-in-a-century opportunity” and Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich calling for the national camp to “present an alternative leadership” to that of the prime minister.
Sensing the rising discontent among their settler base, many Likud ministers have said it is imperative not to give up on annexation.
Even before Thursday’s announcement, it appeared that Netanyahu’s annexation plans were unlikely to advance in the near term.
Annexation has largely been displaced by the coronavirus in the public discourse and in July, Army Radio reported that Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin had told associates that no attention was being paid to the issue in Washington, making it unlikely that the prime minister would advance the issue, as he was unwilling to move forward without coordinating with the Trump administration.