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Israeli opposition lawmakers call for referendum on annexing settlement blocs

A general view taken on December 28, 2016 shows a partial view of the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev near the West Bank city of Ramallah
AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)
Survey gauging public opinion found 60 percent of Israelis supported a Palestinian statehood of some form

Israeli opposition leader and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog on Friday called for the government to hold a referendum on the status of the disputed Palestinian territories, responding to far-right and pro-settlement Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett's call for the annexation of West Bank settlement blocs.

"Bennett, if you are so sure, let’s do a referendum now and decide whether we are heading to one or two states, without your mockery and arrogance," Herzog said in a direct statement to Bennett, according to Israel National News.

Herzog's sentiments are echoed by fellow Zionist Union party member, Eitan Broshi who noted that a survey conducted by Israel Radio revealed that only one third of Israelis supported the annexation of West Bank territories.

"Sixty percent of Israelis supported the establishment of a Palestinian state in some borders or others, and in maintaining the State of Israel Jewish and democratic," Broshi said.

"If Bennett and his friends on the extreme right who have taken over the government believe their program has a majority – they are invited to help me in the coming days promote a decisive referendum on this issue. Once again we have confirmation that support for the two-state solution and opposition to a bi-national state crosses party lines, and is accepted by most citizens of the state," Broshi said.

Yonatan Cohen

A survey published by Israel Radio Friday found that 31 percent of Israelis support the annexation of the large settlement blocs in the West Bank, establishing the remaining areas as a Palestinian state.

Another 30 percent support an alternative solution that would establish a Palestinian state along internationally recognized 1967 borders with retained control over Jerusalem's Old City and Western Wall.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents favored a third option, a one-state solution in which Israel would annex the entire West Bank, including Palestinian cities. This option, however, did not clarify whether or not that would include full democratic rights for Palestinians and thus could be interpreted as a solution favored by both far-left and far-right Israelis.

There were only three choices outlined in the survey conducted by Rafi Smith polling company in which 500 Israeli adults were polled to serve as a representative cross section.

A 4.5 percent sampling error was reported.

The survey was commissioned to gauge public opinion after right-wing politicians, including Bennett, pushed for legislation in favor of annexation in response to last week's UN Security Council vote condemning the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Passed by a 14-0 vote after Washington abstained from using its veto, the resolution demands that "Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem."

It stated that Israeli settlements have "no legal validity" and are "dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution."

In response to the vote, right-wing Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Saturday night that Israel should "announce a full annexation of settlement blocs," and Bennett told Army Radio that his party would "soon propose a bill to annex Maale Adumim," one of the largest West Bank settlements east of Jerusalem.

Annexing the main territories populated by Jewish settlers has been a longstanding agenda for Bennett, but was reignited after the results of the UN vote.

Gali Tibbon (AFP/File)

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned his cabinet on Sunday not to discuss settlement building and annexation or make public statements regarding the topic.

The Prime Minister added that while he also shares feelings of "anger and frustration" towards the decision, he urges all to "act prudently, responsibly and calmly, in both actions and words."

Netanyahu revealed his disappointment in the decision and more specifically with the Obama administration in several scathing statements issued after the vote.

"From the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed," he said.

"Over decades, American administrations and Israeli governments had disagreed about settlements, but we agreed that the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue."

"As I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don’t take friends to the Security Council," he added.

(Staff with agencies)

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