Minister urges Israel to begin annexing parts of West Bank

Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday called for the country to start taking steps toward annexing parts of the West Bank while helping the Palestinian Authority establish “autonomy on steroids” in other parts of the territory.

Bennett, leader of the hard-line Jewish Home party, said Israel should start by extending sovereignty to the Etzion bloc or Ma’ale Adumim, two areas outside Jerusalem which Israel says it would like to hold onto in any future agreement with the Palestinians.

“I think the time is right to do this. We did this in 1967 in Jerusalem, we did so in 1981 with the Golan Heights,” Bennett told Israeli news site Ynet.

He said his view was not shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bennett, whose party counts the settlement movement as a major part of its base, ran in recent elections on a platform of annexation of the parts of the West Bank under Israeli civilian and military control under the Oslo Accords, and extending a type of semi-autonomy to Palestinians in the rest of the territory.

Israel has controlled the West Bank since seizing it in the 1967 Six Day War but has never moved to annex any of the territory beyond extending sovereignty — which Israel argues is different from annexation — to East Jerusalem. It later applied the same status to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria.

“We have de facto separated from the Palestinians. They rule themselves,” Bennett said. “My plan is to give the Palestinians autonomy on steroids. We should do two things,” Bennett said. “One is to create autonomy on steroids for the Palestinians in areas A and B, and in area C to begin, in stages, the application of [Israeli] sovereignty.”

In Area A, the Palestinian Authority maintains full civil and security control; in Area B, the PA maintains civil control and shares security control with Israel; and in Area C, some two-thirds of the West Bank, Israel maintains full civil and security control.

Reports of negotiations with Palestinians in recent years have pointed to Israel seeking to keep certain areas of the West Bank where there are major settlement blocs in exchange for land swaps. Isolated settlements elsewhere in Area C would not be included.

“There is not one person in the State of Israel — in let’s call it ‘the normal zone’ –- who thinks Ariel, Ma’ale Adumim should not be part of Israel,” Bennett said, mentioning two of the larger West Bank settlements.

Asked whether such a move would be realistic or how it would affect the international community’s views on Israel, Bennett fired back: “Tell me, do you think in 1981 when [then prime minister Menachem] Begin applied sovereignty over the Golan Heights, was it ‘realistic’? He did so, and the sky didn’t cave in.”

The comments came as diplomats in the US and Europe have hinted at a new push for long-moribund peace negotiations.

On Friday, the Quartet for Mideast Peace said it would prepare a report on the current situation between Israel and the Palestinians, with an eye toward resuming peace talks.

The new report will include “recommendations that can help inform international discussions on the best way to advance the two-state solution.”

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