The Land of Israel caucus -- a parliamentary group established in 2010 by members of Likud and other nationalist parties (Shas, National Union and Jewish Home) -- is calling on the Israeli government to respond to the Palestinian Authority's "unilateral" actions at the UN this past week by formally annexing all Israeli settlements in the West Bank (which the caucus members usually refer to as "Judea and Samaria"). Shortly after this, Knesset Deputy Speaker Danny Danon (Likud) announced that his bill to scrap "all obligations between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority as established by international agreements" (including the Oslo Accords) and permit "full Israeli annexation of the West Bank" will be voted on in the Knesset at the end of October.
In a letter to PM Netanyahu (which preceded Danon's announcement), the Land of Israel caucus members also urged the government to increase settlement expansion, suspend financial assistance to the PA, and halt all Palestinian construction projects in "Area C" of the West Bank.
Area C is administered by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) authorities, who "retain authority over law enforcement and control over the building and planning sphere," according to the UN (Area A consists of Israeli settlements, and Area B is administered by the PA). The area is the least densely populated part of the West Bank and is believed to hold 150,000 Palestinian residents. Due to underdevelopment, it is considered the most marginal part of the West Bank, despite accounting for almost 2/3 of the West Bank's total land area.
The UN considers the eventual establishment of Palestinian Authority control over Area C under the terms of the Oslo Accords "vital":
In addition to its importance to those residing within its conﬁnes, Area C contains the land reserves critical for the sustainability of a future Palestinian state. Area C holds the only available space necessary for the expansion of Palestinian population centers as well as the bulk of Palestinian agricultural and grazing land. Because it is the only contiguous territorial block in the West Bank, large-scale infrastructure projects including national roads, water and electricity networks usually pass through it.
The Palestinian Authority has demanded a halt to Israel expansion in the area in return for renewing negotiations. The Land of Israel caucus, though, claims that the area is an integral part of "Greater Israel." Religious figures in the caucus said at the caucus's founding that "One of the goals of the lobby is to promote legislation to strengthen settlement – legislation that already exists in the Bible."
Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), who has been at the forefront of the caucus's efforts since its establishment, asserted in 2010 that:
We face many challenges and we have many problems, but still and all, the rate of growth in Judea and Samaria is the largest in the country. As with the Jews in ancient Egypt, the more they oppress us, the more we grow . . . . We are all united to strengthen the Land of Israel and develop Judea and Samaria.
Danon, among others on the Israeli right, have suggested that in the event of annexation, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs would have to either swear loyalty to "the Jewish state," or migrate to Jordan and Egypt. Supporters of Danon's plans often allude to Jordan as "the Palestinian homeland."
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has announced the construction of 1,100 new homes in East Jerusalem beyond the "Green Line." The caucus has urged the government to maintain the pace of settlement expansion, and PM Netanyahu has indicated that if the PA wishes to resume talks with Israel following the UN bid, Tel Aviv will not agree to "preconditions," which, among other things, would include a temporary halt settlement construction. Israeli settlement construction has increased this past summer, partly in response to massive social protests that originally began in response to rising costs of living and housing shortages (the caucus actually urged an increase in settlement construction in response to the protests). The issue of halting Israeli settlement construction has proven to be a major stumbling block in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and a source of humiliation for the Obama Administration.
Some have suggested that the latest Israeli moves are a response to comments by a PLO official towards the separation of Jews from Palestinians in a future Palestinian state, though top Israeli officials have also been explicitly advocating population transfers in Israel and the West Bank targeted at non-Jewish individuals as part of a future peace settlement.
Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.
September 28, 2011, Foreign Policy in Focus