Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting, in Jerusalem, Sunday. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Israel’s Likud party members call for annexing settlements

JERUSALEM — The ruling Likud Party’s central committee has unanimously endorsed a resolution calling for the annexation of West Bank settlements, sending a tough message to the Palestinians in the wake of President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israel’s capital.

The decision Sunday night marked the latest step by Likud to distance itself from the internationally backed idea of establishing an independent Palestinian state as part of a future peace deal. The Palestinians condemned the decision and accused Trump of emboldening the Likud party.

The central committee is only an advisory body, and Sunday’s vote did not reflect an official policy change. But its decisions reflect the prevailing opinions in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.

Several leading politicians, including senior members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, joined the vote to “impose Israeli law on all liberated areas of settlement in Judea and Samaria.”

Among them were Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Netanyahu, however, skipped the vote, and his office declined to comment.

Erdan said the Likud party was responsible for annexing Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in the 1980s, and it would do so with West Bank settlements as well. “Our right to the land of Israel begins with Judea and Samaria,” he said.

“Two states for two peoples is a concept that has disappeared from the world,” Science Minister Ofir Akunis was quoted as saying by the Haaretz daily. “And to my joy, U.S. President Trump is sitting in the White House and does not accept this mistaken concept.”

Trump has said he hopes to broker what he calls the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians, and he has appointed a high-level team, headed by his son in law and adviser Jared Kushner, to come up with a peace plan. But after nearly a year on the job, they still have not floated a proposal.

In a departure from his predecessors, Trump last month said he was upending decades of U.S. policy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

While Trump said his decision was not meant to prejudge negotiations on the city’s final borders, it infuriated the Palestinians, who accused him of siding with Israel. The Palestinians seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, home to key holy sites, as their capital, and the international community has long said that the city’s fate should be decided through negotiations.

Trump also has softened his predecessors’ support for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, saying instead that he would support a two-state solution only if both sides agree to it. Netanyahu’s coalition is dominated by opponents to Palestinian statehood, and since Trump’s election, Netanyahu has stopped talking about a two-state solution.

Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements, built on land captured in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians for their future state, illegal.

The Palestinians called the Likud vote “an outrageous violation” of international resolutions and “could not be taken without the full support of the U.S. administration.”

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog called the Likud decision “irresponsible, impractical and unnecessary.”

Netanyahu’s nationalist coalition allies hailed the move, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett praising the Likud party for “adopting” his Jewish Home party’s plan to extend Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements.

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