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Besides Palestinians, Israelis Have Qualms About West Bank Annexation Plans


Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has set July 1 as the date to move forward on annexing parts of the occupied West Bank. Palestinians under occupation are resisting, and so are many Israelis. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: There's a lot about Prime Minister Netanyahu's annexation plan that is shrouded in mystery.

NAOMI LEITNER: I don't know what this is all about. I don't understand.

ESTRIN: Naomi Leitner (ph) was one of two dozen Israelis I met yesterday on the street who were confused by the talk of annexation. This confusion makes it hard to gauge public opinion, says Tamar Hermann of the Israel Democracy Institute.

TAMAR HERMANN: People do not know which territories are actually talked about. We don't know how the international community is going to react. We don't know what are the plans regarding the rights of the Palestinians residing in these territories. Most of these details are actually missing.

ESTRIN: What we do know is this - for the first time, a U.S. administration has given the green light to Israel to unilaterally annex West Bank land, a move most countries consider illegal. In January, the Trump administration unveiled its vision for peace and prosperity in the Middle East. Israel could incorporate about 30% of the West Bank and keep all its Jewish settlements.



ESTRIN: Prime Minister Netanyahu has embraced the Trump proposal, calling it a historic opportunity to establish sovereignty in the West Bank. But he signaled annexation could happen in stages over time, or it might not even happen now. Oded Revivi, the mayor of a Jewish settlement, speaks with Israeli and U.S. officials regularly.

ODED REVIVI: It might be that the Americans won't be as fully engaged in it because of issues that have come up within America itself which need the attention of the president and the administration. It might be because of disagreement between the Israeli coalition.

ESTRIN: Netanyahu's coalition partner Benny Gantz opposed unilateral annexation when he ran for office this year. His position now is unclear. As Netanyahu's July 1 target date approaches, Israelis are bombarded with warnings. Leftist lawmakers, former security chiefs, European and Arab envoys all argue annexing territory could shake Israel's global alliances and leave no room for a Palestinian state. The loudest opponents are the most surprising - many on the religious right who have always dreamed of Jewish dominion over Biblical lands.


ESTRIN: Jews, wake up, a religious Jewish Israeli proclaims at a Jerusalem intersection. These protesters worry about the 70% of the West Bank the Trump administration says Israel should reserve for a potential Palestinian state, a state that protester Yosef Yitzhaki (ph) says will be able to attack Israel.

YOSEF YITZHAKI: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: "The plan looks very good," he says. "They call it annexation. But actually, it's very poisonous."

The debate among settlers is, do you annex part of the land now with U.S. support and accept a Palestinian state, or do nothing and hold out hope to someday claim the entire territory?

Take a drive through the West Bank and you see posters plastered at nearly every major intersection and settler bus stop. They warn, the danger of dividing the land is upon us. The whole land is ours. I met hitchhiker David Deutsch (ph) as he was heading to the shrine where tradition says the patriarch Abraham is buried.

DAVID DEUTSCH: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He said he was going to the holy site with a prayer - may Trump's proposal for the West Bank be canceled.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, the West Bank.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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