by Dror Liba | Ynet |  February 12, 2019

The issue of annexing Judea and Samaria to Israel is one of the most explosive – both from a political and diplomatic standpoint. The international community opposes the annexation of the territories on the grounds that it will put an end to the two-state solution, but the idea garners wide support among Israeli right wingers.

In an embarrassing incident which unfolded between Israel and the United States about a year ago, the White House denied having had any talks about sovereignty with Jerusalem. The issue at hand was the Law of Sovereignty proposed by Likud MKs. To thwart it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had discussed it with the Americans. After heatedly denying this, the White House demanded that Netanyahu issue a clarification, in which he announced he had only updated Washington on the bills proposed by the Knesset.

In all probability, Trump’s Centennia Plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be presented before the April 9 elections, but with the initiative continuing to resonate in the background, it is evident that considerable activity is underway to promote the idea of applying Israeli law to the territories.

The Sovereignty Movement – which has gained power and traction in recent years, primarily among Likud members – is an offshoot of the Women in Green movement, founded by right-wing female activists Yehudit Katzover and Nadia Matar. Matar made headlines prior to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, after having called the head of the Disengagement Administration “a modern-day Judenrat.” She was questioned and tried for insulting public officials, but the charges were eventually dropped. Both women regularly attend demonstrations in the West Bank.

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MKs call for sovereignty over Judea and Samaria

In recent years, the Movement has made efforts to influence members of the Likud Party, with its members constantly working to boost support for annexation. In the Leumiada (the flagship event of the ‘national camp’), which took place in Eilat last month, a panel of speakers led by the movement was held, entitled “Applying Sovereignty.” The panel featured Ministers Zeev Elkin, Haim Katz and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

The movement’s YouTube channel featured videos of numerous ministers, deputy ministers and MKs who support its objectives – including Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked of the New Right, Miri Regev, Yariv Levin, Gila Gamliel and Ofir Akunis of the Likud, Elazar Stern from Yesh Atid, and many others.

Akunis said: “To begin with, the idea of a Palestinian state is off the table. Second, we must take courageous, tough, challenging, and difficult decisions vis a vis the international community – first and foremost to apply sovereignty over Area C. Area C has a clear Israeli and Jewish majority and a negligible Palestinian minority.”

According to Gamliel, “It is our duty to boost Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, to apply Israeli law to the entire Judea and Samaria.” Levin said in the video: “As far as I’m concerned, the application of Israeli sovereignty throughout Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) is not a question of ‘if’ but of ‘how’ and ‘when’.”

Stern said: “Indeed, we must strive for sovereignty. I believe it’s  possible. The challenge, of course, is to rearrange some more procedures here so we can apply sovereignty. ”

The movement also publishes a journal entitled “Sovereignty”, which features articles supporting the application of sovereignty to the West Bank, written by prominent Likud members such as Gideon Sa’ar, Elkin and Gila Gamliel. During the last local elections, the movement called on residents in Judea and Samaria to vote only for candidates committed to the application of sovereignty. Among other initiatives, the movement holds conferences and seminars for youth who support the movement’s vision.

The influence of the movement on the Likud was already apparent in late 2017, when the party’s Central Committee issued a declaration confirming that the party supported the annexation of the territories. According to the resolution, “On the 50th anniversary of liberating Judea and Samaria, including Jerusalem, the Likud Central Committee calls upon the Likud’s elected representatives to seek unhindered construction [in Judea and Samaria] and to apply Israel’s laws and sovereignty to all liberated areas of settlement in Judea and Samaria.”

The movement enjoys donor funding, mainly from the Central Fund of Israel, which is based in New York and headed by the Marcus family. The private fund raises donations from American Jews and transfers them to right-wing Israeli entities.

Im Tirtzu, Chonenu and the Kohelet Forum are some of the organizations that benefit from the Fund’s support. The Sovereignty Movement has received NIS 1.5 million in donations from the fund.

Commanders for Israel’s Security responded to the story as follows: “Today, the extreme right’s mode of operation for annexing millions of Palestinians has been revealed. Unnoticed, a right-wing extremist group is working to ensure that the next government will implement its plan. Although most of the Israeli public understands the destructive implications of annexation, utterly opposes it, and is unaware of the measures to realize this horror scenario, the Sovereignty Movement is creating facts on the ground, mobilizing extreme right-wing politicians and laying the groundwork for implementing the move.”