January 29, 2020 / 10:05 AM / a month ago

Israeli defense minister pushes to extend sovereignty in West Bank

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett looks at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to an Israeli army base in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, November 24, 2019. Atef Safadi/Pool via REUTERS

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s hawkish defense minister said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan created a window for applying Israeli sovereignty on nearly a third of the occupied West Bank.

Naftali Bennett said he had already formed a team to get the process going.

“Last night history knocked on the door of our home and gave us a one-time opportunity to apply Israeli law on all settlements in Samaria, Judea, the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea,” Bennett said, using the Hebrew names for areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Bennett’s far-right faction is a partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. He has long advocated annexing much of the West Bank and praised U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace proposal for agreeing to let Israel maintain control of its West Bank settlements.

Bennett said Israel had effectively been given the green light to start applying its laws “on all the territory President Trump is willing.” He said that accounts for about 30% of the West Bank.

Bennett said he had given orders to form a special team within Israel’s security establishment to “implement the application of Israeli law and sovereignty on all Jewish settlements” in the West Bank.

Trump’s plan also proposed creating a Palestinian state. This has always been anathema to some of Netanyahu’s right-wing allies, and Bennett reiterated his opposition.

“The Israeli government will not recognize a Palestinian state,” he said.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Stephen Farrell

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