Eitan and Goldstein in Gush Etzion
Eitan and Goldstein in Gush EtzionCourtesy

For perhaps the first time, a minister in Binyamin Netanyahu's government has claimed that the Prime Minister plans to give away most of Judea and Samaria to an incipient Arab state, with Israel retaining only the settlement blocs. During a tour of Gush Etzion, Michael Eitan, whose title is Minister for Improvement of Government Services, said that “enacting the Prime Minister's policies will lead to the annexation of the settlement blocs, including Gush Etzion, with the intent of giving up other parts of Judea and Samaria for the benefit of a Palestinian state.”

Gush Etzion Council head Shaul Goldstein, who accompanied Eitan during the tour, said that he appreciated the minister's vote of confidence in the future of the Gush, even if he disagreed strongly with Eitan on surrendering other parts of Yesha.

In his comments, Eitan was referring to a speech by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to the Knesset in mid-May. In the wake of that speech, several right-wing MKs expressed concern over the fact that Netanyahu stressed that Israel would keep the settlement blocs in any final-status settlement with the PA – but  that “painful concessions” would need to be made. This was taken by many as a sign that Netanyahu was prepared to give them away to the PA for establishment of an Arab state in Judea and Samaria.

After the speech, government Minister Benny Begin said in several interviews that he “knew for certain” that Netanyahu had not intended to imply an Israeli withdrawal from non-bloc areas of Yesha. A report on Arutz 7 said that following the speech, Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely approached Netanyahu and said, "The rule that you set implies the exception to the rule," meaning that his insistence on retaining the settlement blocs means that the other towns are expendable. Netanyahu responded, "That is not the intention.”

Although Eitan seemed to imply that he was speaking for Netanyahu in his statement, he is considered to be one of the Likud's left-leaning MKs. Speaking at a Likud faction meeting earlier this year, for example, Eitan advised against an Israeli annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria, saying it would “boomerang” against Israel. “All Likud Prime Ministers have been against such a move, which would further isolate Israel and cause great damage. It would act as a boomerang, and prevent further Israeli development in the settlement blocs,” he said.

If what Eitan says is accurate, tens of thousands of Jews could be evicted from their homes, says National Union Chairman MK Ya'akov Katz (Ketzaleh). In a recent interview with Arutz 7, Ketzaleh said that based on his analysis of the speech, the Prime Minister would likely seek the removal of over 120,000 Jews from their homes. In his analysis, Ketzaleh named dozens of towns that are outside the settlement blocs he believes Netanyahu is referring to – with large towns like Beit El, Karnei Shomron, Givat Ze'ev, Kedumim, Kiryat Arba, and many others on the “chopping bloc,” since they are outside the “settlement blocs.”