‘He duped us’: Israeli settler leaders in West Bank accuse Netanyahu of backtracking on annexation promise

Jewish settlers say that by signing a deal to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates, the Israeli prime minister has defrauded them of their dream of annexing the occupied West Bank.

Benjamin Netanyahu promised during recent elections to apply Israeli sovereignty to certain areas of the West Bank, including Jewish settlements.

Settler leaders have now accused him of floating the idea of annexation only to cave in to international pressure when the terms of the UAE deal required him to walk back his promises.

Netanyahu has put the annexation plan temporarily on hold amid disputes within his governing coalition. The PM also wants prior approval from Israel’s main ally, the US, but Washington will not consent to Israeli annexations in the occupied West Bank for “some time,” preferring to focus on the Israel-UAE deal and wider regional peacemaking, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said on Monday.

The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on August 13 that the deal with Israel had helped to defuse what he called the ticking time-bomb of Netanyahu’s planned annexation of settlements in the occupied West Bank, which was threatening a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

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“He deceived us, defrauded us, duped us,” Reuters quoted David Elhayani, head of the Yesha Council, the settlers’ main umbrella organization, as saying. 

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a golden opportunity that the prime minister missed because he lacked the courage,” Elhayani said. “He’s lost it. He needs to go.”

Israel’s West Bank settlements were built by successive governments on land captured during the Six-Day War in 1967. Around 450,000 Jewish settlers now live among three million Palestinians in the West Bank, with a further 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem. While most countries view the settlements as illegal, Israel and the United States dispute that view.

President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan appeared to give the green light for annexation in January. It envisaged Israel applying sovereignty, or de facto annexation, to its 120 settlements in almost a third of the West Bank. But the deal with the UAE, which has wide support in Israel, appears to have put it on ice. And Netanyahu may lose the backing of settlers and hawkish parties.

“Sovereignty is not off the agenda, I was the one who brought it to the Trump plan with American consent. We will apply sovereignty,” he told Israel Army Radio. The White House had merely asked for a suspension, he said.

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