Israeli defence chief Bennett announces 'annexation lite' task force

Israeli defence chief announces 'annexation lite' task force for parts of occupied West Bank
3 min read
09 January, 2020
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank.
Bennett is a longtime supporter of settlement expansion [Getty]
Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday announced that he had established a task force to develop plans for the Israeli-controlled Area C of the occupied West Bank, which activists have described as "occupation lite".

"We are launching a campaign for the future of Area C; it started a month ago and I'm announcing it here today," he told a conference. "The State of Israel's policy is that the land in Area C belongs to [Israel]."

"Israel is fighting a real war on Area C," Bennett added.

Bennett's proposals are equivalent to annexing parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, legal sources told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The far-right minister is the co-founder of Israel's New Right Party and has long been a supporter of settlement expansion and the effective annexation of Area C.

Under the 1994 Oslo Accords, Area C constitutes some 61 percent of the occupied West Bank and is subject to full Israeli control. Around 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, which is spread across the West Bank. 

Around 650,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank.

Bennett's chief of staff, Itay Hershkowitz, has met with settlement activists in recent weeks to discuss priorities for Area C.

Among the demands agreed upon by Hershkowitz are controversial and legally dubious matters such as allowing Israelis to privately buy land in the West Bank and connecting settlement posts, unauthorised by the Israeli government, to electricity and water.

Current law limits the purchase of land in the West Bank to Jordanians, Palestinians and "foreigners of Arab origin". Israelis are able to purchase land, but only through corporations and with approval from Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank.

Settlement activists have also sought to have unauthorised settlement outposts near to established settlements be recognised as legitimate neighbourhoods of those settlements.

They also hope to repeal a military order that allows Israeli forces to evict settlers using or squatting on privately owned Palestinian land, even if the owner hasn't issued a legal complaint.

The current caretaker administration has little time to realise such goals before Israel returns to the polls in March for its third election in 12 months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to annex settlements in the West Bank, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.

"It's time to apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and legalise all the Judea and Samaria settlements, those that are in settlement blocs and those outside of them," he said last month, using the biblical term for the occupied West Bank. "They will be part of the State of Israel."

Analysts say Netanyahu and other pro-annexation figures have been emboldened by the Trump administration.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year announced that the US does not regard Israeli settlements as illegal, a move that has widely been condemned as contrary to international law.

President Donald Trump has previously provided support for right-wing Israeli policies through his recognition of the annexation of the occupied Golan Heights, as well as moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

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