Alarm bells were going off in European Union capitals when on Dec. 7 the Israeli Knesset passed, at a first hearing, the settlement regularization bill, which legalizes illegal Israeli settlements built on private Palestinian lands.
Last week, EU foreign ministers, mainly from Germany, France and the United Kingdom, as well as EU senior officials held internal consultations over the significance of this Israeli right-wing coalition move. According to an associate of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, European leadership does not consider this development to be a simple tactical maneuver by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protect the stability of his coalition. Rather, they see it as an intentional policy move instigated by Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett — a dangerous expression of a possible de jure annexation of West Bank lands by the Israeli government. The bill may or may not pass the test of the Israeli judiciary, but Netanyahu’s decision to bring it up to a vote (imposing on all his coalition members to back it) is a clear declaration of intent targeting the half a million Israeli settlers in the territories. Netanyahu signals that as far as he is concerned, most of the West Bank will remain in Israeli hands.