Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has assured Jewish settlers that he is going ahead with plans to begin annexing parts of the West Bank next month, a settler representative has said.
Mr Netanyahu told a group of settler leaders that US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan allowing the annexation has not been finalised, Oded Revivi, mayor of the Efrat settlement, told The Associated Press.
But Mr Netanyahu said that once a final map is agreed upon with the Americans, he will present it to settler leaders individually, Mr Revivi said.
Mr Revivi was one of a dozen settler leaders who attended the meeting to support the annexation effort and offer a counterbalance to growing criticism of the plan among the prime minister’s nationalist base.
Annexation of West Bank land has long been a dream of the Israeli settler movement.
Despite what is widely viewed as a pro-Israel plan, some settlers have voiced concern that Mr Trump’s initiative does not go far enough. They note that many settlements would be turned into isolated enclaves surrounded by Palestinian territory. They also reject the US offer to recognise Palestinian statehood, albeit with far less land and far less authority than the Palestinians seek.
“This doesn’t answer all our dreams but you have to keep it in perspective and see what the alternative is,” Mr Revivi said. “We have an opportunity with this president, this prime minister and this international climate and we have to seize it.”
The schism in the settlement leadership burst into the open last week when David Elhayani, chairman of the Yesha Council, an umbrella settlers’ group, told an Israeli newspaper that the plan was inadequate and proved Mr Trump was “not a friend of Israel”.
Mr Netanyahu, fearful of upsetting his close ally in the White House, responded harshly, lauding Mr Trump’s friendship and accusing the settler leadership of being ungrateful.
Mr Revivi, a senior figure in Yesha, said the majority of settlers supported the plan, even if they harboured some concerns, and were solidly behind Mr Netanyahu.
Mr Netanyahu and much of his nationalist base are eager to move ahead with annexation, especially with Mr Trump facing shaky re-election prospects in November.
The presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has said he opposes annexation.
The proposal also faces opposition in Israel, where many fear that annexation is a step that could lead to the creation of a single binational state with the Palestinians.