Likud party calls for de-facto annexation of Israeli settlements


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party unanimously urged legislators in a non-binding resolution on Sunday to effectively annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, land that Palestinians want for a future state.

By enacting civilian law over settlements, the move could streamline procedures for their construction and expansion. That land is currently under military jurisdiction and Israel's defence minister has a final say on building there.

The settlers are subject to Israeli civilian law.

"We will now promote the recognition of our sovereignty of the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). ... We must begin to enact this sovereignty, we have the moral right and obligation towards our settler brothers," Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told a meeting of Likud's Central Committee.

Netanyahu is not bound to follow the resolution. He did not attend the meeting, which attracted several hundred delegates including ministers, legislators and party officials. The Likud Central Committee is the party's governing body.

At least two previous Likud Central Committee decisions have been ignored by party leaders:

In 2002, it voted against the creation of a Palestinian state, but then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would act as he saw fit and Netanyahu in 2009 voiced conditional support for the establishment of a Palestinian state in a landmark speech.

Political commentators said the decision might bolster right-wing support for Netanyahu, who could seek a public mandate in an early election as he awaits possible criminal indictments against him on corruption suspicions. He denies wrongdoing.

Although parliamentary elections are not due until November 2019, the police investigations in two cases of alleged corruption against Netanyahu and tensions among partners in his governing coalition could hasten a poll.

Most countries view settlements that Israel has built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal. Israel disputes that and cites biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank, as well as security interests.

About 400,000 settlers and 2.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank. The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In 1981, Israel enacted civilian law on the Golan Heights, territory captured from Syria in 1967, a de-facto annexation of the strategic plateau. The move has not won international recognition.

Israeli settlements have been one of the main stumbling blocks in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that have been frozen since 2014. Efforts by US President Donald Trump's envoys to restart them have not yet shown any progress. Trump this month recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, reversing decades of US policy.

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