Most Israelis oppose annexing of West Bank despite lax White House, poll reveals
AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP/File)
Since US president Donald Trump stepped into office last month, Israel has announced more than 6,000 new settlement developments and expansions, a move that most Israelis feel is taking advantage of the new administration’s more lenient stance on the issue, a poll revealed on Tuesday.
Haaretz reported that the poll published by the Israel Democracy Institute found 54.6 percent of Israelis were opposed to the move, while 40.4 percent were in favor.
More specifically, among Jewish Israelis, 50 percent were against exploiting the White House's lax stance on settlement expansion and 77.9 percent of Arab Israelis were opposed.
The new US president has indicated he is far less hostile to settlement expansion than his predecessor Barack Obama, who has long maintained that the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is a hindrance on negotiating a peace process.
Only last week did the Trump administration speak out for the first time, stating that the settlements, "may not be helpful" for peace prospects, but also broke with previous administrations by saying they were not an obstacle to peace.
Prior to his inauguration, Trump told Israel to “stay strong” and assured when he took office, “things would be different,” after bluntly criticizing a United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning the building of settlements, whose construction are considered illegal by the international community.
He also discussed potential plans to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move the Palestinian Authority swiftly condemns.
Tuesday’s “peace index” poll was compiled in January, prior to a vote Sunday that passed legislation legalizing some 4,000 settler homes illegally built on private Palestinian land. However, according to Haaretz the poll showed more than half of Israelis, 57.6 percent, were also opposed to annexation of the West Bank -- 53.4 percent of Jewish Israelis and 78.7 percent of Arab Israelis.
While the bill’s passing sparked several condemnations from across the international community, including the European Union and even US-based Jewish groups, the White House refused to take a position outright.
After the law was finalized, Bezalel Smotrich of the far-right Jewish Home, who was one of the forces behind the legislation, thanked the American people for electing Donald Trump as president, "without whom the law would have probably not passed".
US press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement Tuesday, that Trump would refrain from making a comment until his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu will be here on the 15th. I think that will be obviously a topic of discussion right now. I don't want to get ahead of that,” Spicer said in the Tuesday briefing.
Netanyahu’s government responded to the outpouring of criticism in a statement that defended the legislation.
The Prime Minister’s office stated that most of the settlements in question had been constructed decades ago, and that the new law would transfer the rights to the land over to the state until an agreement is reached, reported Ynet.
"This is a very balanced solution for landowners as well as for families facing the risk of evacuation and losing the home they have been living in for decades," the PMO asserted in the statement.
"The aim of this law is to minimize the need to destroy houses built many years ago. It is important to stress that the law will only apply to a limited number of existing cases and is in no way a license to expropriate land," it added.
Sunday’s legislation was directly inspired by the lengthy saga in Amona, a central West Bank outpost, where its few hundred residents were evicted after the Supreme Court ruled their homes were built on private Palestinian land.
The evacuation at the beginning of the month took over 24 hours as some 1,500 residents and activists gathered in Amona to protest.
Over 60 police officers were wounded throughout the eviction operation
The international community considers all Jewish settlements to be illegal, but Israel distinguishes between those it sanctions and those it does not, dubbed outposts.
"Israel is a law abiding country," the PMO stated. "The State of Israel ascribes a great deal of importance to respecting the court's decisions, and it will enforce the law among all sectors of the population, as has been proven by the painful evacuation of Amona."
Prior to the vote, opposition chief and Labour leader Isaac Herzog lashed out against the "despicable law" that he said would undermine the country's Jewish majority.
"The vote tonight isn't for or against the settlers, rather Israel's interests," Herzog said.
The law would "annex millions of Palestinians into Israel", he warned, and expose Israeli soldiers and politicians to lawsuits at international criminal courts.
According to Haaretz, when the “Peace Index” poll surveyed the representative sample of 600 Israelis asking what West Bank Palestinians should receive in the case that Israel ultimately annexed the area, less than a third, 30.7 percent, were in favor of granting Palestinians full Israeli citizenship in such an event.
However, 62.9 percent were in favor of restarting the peace process with the Palestinians, but 70.2 percent were doubtful that any talks would lead to any fruitful results, said Haaretz.
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