“If the result of this agreement is the creation of a terror state in Judea and Samaria, then we are ready to give up on sovereignty” – Yesha Council head David Elhayani.

U.S. President Donald Trump winks at Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they discuss a Middle East peace plan proposal during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)

U.S. President Donald Trump winks at Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they discuss a Middle East peace plan proposal during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2020


A partial housing freeze and the destruction of at least 15 West Bank settlements are hidden within US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, settler leaders and activists are warning.

“Sand has been thrown in our eyes,” South Hebron Hills Regional Council head Yochai Damri told The Jerusalem Post.

In the initial flush of the January unveiling of Trump’s plan, there was excitement over the possibility of US support for the application of Israeli sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank, effectively half of Area C. This would include annexing all the Israeli settlements. Even more significant, the annexation could be done at the start of the peace process and was not dependent on the successful outcome of negotiations with the Palestinians.

The Trump plan provided for the most generous offer made to Israel in any US-led peace process so far. In past peace initiatives it was presumed a certain number of settlements would be forcibly uprooted.

In contrast, Trump’s plan has promised that settlers could stay in their homes and could actualize one of their most cherished goals: the transformation of the biblical heartland into sovereign Israel.

Initially, settlers applauded the sovereignty portion of the plan, but stood in opposition to the portions of the document that dealt with the creation of a Palestinian state on the other 70% of the West Bank.

Now, settlers – including the Yesha Council – have become concerned that the sovereignty portion of the plan would be applied in such a way that it would rob many of them of the ability to conduct a normal life and thus lead in the end to the demise of a certain number of settlements.

The Trump plan “tries to give us the settlements and take away the land, which is the exact opposite of what had been intended,” because the settlements are there to ensure a Jewish hold on the land, said veteran right-wing activist Boaz Haetzni of Kiryat Arba.
“A situation has been created where sovereignty has become the problem and not the solution.”

ON WEDNESDAY, the Yesha Council warned against the plan and issued its redlines. This included three principled points. It objected to any plan that allowed for the creation of a Palestinian state; it rejected any plan that freezes or restricts Jewish building; and it objected to the creation of small island enclaves.

“Yesha has worked for years for the application of sovereignty, at a time when almost no one spoke of the idea or recognized it,” Yesha Council head David Elhayani said. “We have arrived at an unprecedented situation, in which the prime minister and the US president are discussing an agreement that includes sovereignty.”

But, he warned, “we won’t agree to the creation of a Palestinian state in Israel’s [biblical] heartland. If the result of this agreement is the creation of a terror state in Judea and Samaria, which will create isolated enclaves and include a settlement freeze, then we are ready to give up on sovereignty in spite of all the work and resources we have invested in this endeavor over the years.”

Several settler leaders wrote a joint piece explaining why they support the plan, including Oranit Council head Nir Bartel, Alfei Menashe Council head Shai Rosenzweig, Ariel Mayor Eli Shaviro, Elkana Council head Assaf Mintzer, Megilot Regional Council head Arie Cohen, Har Adar Council head Haim Mandel Shaked and Efrat Council head Oded Revivi.

“We are at the precipice of a historic moment of international recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish land of Judea and Samaria,” they wrote.

“The ‘Deal of the Century’ is a defining test for the leadership of Judea and Samaria,” they added.

They likened the moment to the 1937 Peel Commission and the 1947 UN Partition Plan. The settler leaders speculated that had the Zionist Congress accepted partition in 1937, perhaps a Jewish state would have been created prior to World War II, which could have absorbed European Jewish immigration, thereby saving many lives.

Ten years later, the Zionist leadership understood it needed to accept the Partition Plan, even though it fell short of their expectations, the settler leaders said.

“There are formative moments like these, at the junction of decision-making, where the implications are historically significant and have an irreversible impact on the future,” the settler leaders who favor the plan said.

“We, the heads of the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria, are experiencing such a moment. We can seize this opportunity to implement sovereignty in large sections of our land, even if our entire dream is still not yet realized,” they wrote. “We must secure what we have. We must say ‘yes’ to the ‘Deal of the Century.’”

At issue in particular for opponents of the Trump plan is the fate of 15 settlements, which under the terms of the plan would become small islands within an otherwise large swath of Palestinian territory. This includes Ateret in the Binyamin region and six communities in the Samaria region: Hermesh, Mevo Dotan, Elon Moreh, Itamar, Har Bracha and Yitzhar. In addition, it includes three other settlements in Gush Etzion – Ma’aleh Amos, Asfar and Karmei Tzur – as well as five in the South Hebron Hills region: Telem, Adora, Negohot, Beit Haggai and Otniel.

IN SPEAKING publicly of the plan, US Ambassador David Friedman has been careful to explain that the only territory frozen for Jewish building under the Trump plan is that portion of Area C designated for a Palestinian state. At present, there are no settlements on that land, and therefore the prohibition is on the extension of settlements into that territory or the creation of new settlements onto it.

Initially, Damri said, he was swayed by that explanation. Now, however, he has become concerned that construction in the island settlements will be frozen, based on comments Friedman has made that those communities can build up, but not out.

None of these communities has a master plan for multi-level buildings beyond single-family homes, so new master plans would have to be drawn up to fit Friedman’s dictates, he said, adding that such a planning process often takes years.

“These are the settlements that have suffered the most amount of terror attacks. How can I look into the eyes of Natan Ben Meir, whose wife was killed at the entrance of their home [in Otniel], and say: ‘The price you paid to live here was in vain,’” Damri said.

The situation in these communities will become so intolerable that its residents will have no choice but to leave, he said. Security options for these communities will decrease, so that their residents are more likely to be subject to attacks on the roads and within the settlements, he said. Effectively, “their lives will be turned into hell.”

Damri wanted to know how he is supposed to explain to these people, “You will now be encircled by a terror state, evacuated from here without compensation, without money and without a future.”

The Trump plan itself hints at the possible choice Israel and those communities might make to relocate when it stated: “The Israeli population located in enclaves that remain inside contiguous Palestinian territory but that are part of the State of Israel shall have the option to remain in place unless they choose otherwise.”

HAETZNI, who this week published a video on YouTube about the dangers of the plan, explained that the US document divided settlements into three categories. There are the larger blocs with easy movement and access, such as the settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim, Beitar Illit, Modi’in Illit, Ariel and Efrat, Haetzni said. The heads of those settlements are often the ones that have been vocal in support of the Trump plan, such as Revivi and Shaviro.

Then there are settlements that are grouped in clusters, so that there is easy movement between them. But movement within the portions of Area C under Israel sovereignty or within existing sovereign Israel is limited, Haetzni explained in his video.

Damri told the Post that at present, those living in South Hebron Hills settlements can drive to Jerusalem or Beersheba. But under the Trump plan, the road to Jerusalem would be blocked and they could only travel in the direction of Beersheba.

The same is true for Kiryat Arba and the Jews in Hebron, he said.

Effectively, Damri said, this means that those in Jerusalem who want to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs can no longer travel directly to it. They would have to travel first to Beersheba and then back in the direction of Jerusalem through the South Hebron Hills and onward to the tomb.

Both he and Haetzni based their understanding of the Trump plan on the maps that were initially provided by the administration. Israeli and American officials are in the midst of a mapping process that would further expand on the details of the sovereignty application, but settlers believe that the overall framework would not change.

THE TRUMP plans offers Palestinians easy movement and access through a system of roads and tunnels, but a similar transportation system has not been designated for the Jewish residents of Area C, Haetzni explained in his video.

Residents of Elon Moreh, who can now travel directly to Tel Aviv or the Jordan Valley, as well as to neighboring settlements like Har Bracha, would be blocked from accessing anything but the Jordan Valley, Haetzni explained. So to go to Tel Aviv, they would first have to travel to the Jordan Valley and then circle back around to the center of the country.

In Gush Etzion, he said, residents of Tekoa can now reach Jerusalem easily via a road that leads almost directly to the Har Homa neighborhood. But under the Trump plan, Tekoa residents would be blocked from that road and would have to travel to Jerusalem via a more cumbersome and longer route through Efrat, Haetzni said.

Those who support the plan in the settlement movement hold that the Palestinians will never engage in the process. As a result, they believe, a Palestinian state would not be created – and after four years, any restrictions on Area C building, movement and access would be lifted. Even if that were not the case and the plan is successful, it is better to allow for US-approved sovereignty than to miss such a historic opportunity.

Haetzni argued that the plan locks Israel into an agreement with the US, without any exit options. In the past, Israel could threaten to withdraw from the peace process in response to Palestinian anti-Israeli activity or terror, he said. Now that option would not be available.

“Even if the Palestinian Authority were to explode the Azrieli towers in Tel Aviv, Israel couldn’t respond,” he said.

Even former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was wise enough not leave Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a map of what he was willing to offer in exchange for peace, Haetzni explained.

“Now there is a map, and we are obligated to it,” Haetzni said.

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