Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been conspicuously silent during the election campaign regarding his plans for the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But some of his close associates have been very open about theirs.
Despite their reputation as two of Netanyahu’s favorites in the Likud party, Yuli Edelstein, a Cabinet minister, and Ze’ev Elkin, chairman of the Likud’s Knesset coalition, have called for gradually annexing the West Bank. And while they have left the details vague, they apparently foresee some Palestinians who live there becoming Israeli citizens.
Though Netanyahu has supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2009, the ideas of his two close associates have significant, if still minority, support within the Likud’s Knesset ranks. The annexation move also has the full and vigorous support of the Jewish Home party, the Orthodox Zionist party that is expected to emerge from the January 22 elections as the second-largest party on the right and at least the third largest in the Knesset.
When the right-wing activist group Women in Green organized a special pre-election “sovereignty” conference, Edelstein, who is minister of Information and Diaspora, and Elkin addressed the 800-strong audience from the podium. The Jerusalem event was Women in Green’s third “sovereignty” conference — but the first that has attracted ruling Likud party members of this stature.
Polling commissioned by the group and conducted ahead of the conference by The New Wave Research, one of Israel’s largest polling companies, concluded that 73% of Israelis who consider themselves right-wing support annexation. Only 9% opposed the idea.
Elkin declared that he considers the interest in annexation a “revolutionary trend.” Stating that Israeli policy toward the West Bank softened in the early 1990s, he commented, “I think the public in the State of Israel today is mature enough to see that conducting ourselves in such a way has brought nothing positive and has brought many problems.”
Edelstein suggested that Israel would assert Jewish claims over the West Bank if it annexed, “sending out an important message to the international community.” It would “put an end to that discussion,” he said, referring to any contestation that Jews have a connection to the territory.