More than a thousand Likud central committee members voted unanimously on Sunday night to endorse exercising Israel’s sovereignty over Judea and Samaria in a meeting at Avenue Hall in Airport City.

Organizers of the event said the decision obligates all of the Likud’s current ministers and Knesset members. But a source close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was noticeably absent from the event, told The Jerusalem Post exclusively that the decision “does not obligate him at all.”

The decision was considered a victory for Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, whose party champions immediately exercising sovereignty over Area C, the parts of the West Bank that are under full Israeli control. But Likud leaders said no one could take credit away from their party.

Likud Central Committee members vote to endorse exercising Israel’s sovereignty over Judea and Samaria last night at Airport City. (Photo: Avashalom Sasoni)

“The time has come to express our Biblical right to the land,” said Netanyahu’s number two in Likud, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

“There are those who say it was their idea. But I presented a bill to exercise sovereignty five or six years ago. The decision belongs to the leadership of the Likud.”

Erdan said Israel cannot miss the opportunity of having US President Donald Trump in the White House who, Erdan said, does not believe settlers are an obstacle to peace. He downplayed the role of the overwhelming majority of the rest of the international community.

“We are telling the world that it doesn’t matter what the nations of the world say,” Erdan told the crowd. “We must recognize this sovereignty.

We have an ethical right and a moral obligation to give equal rights to the half million Israelis living legally in Judea and Samaria.”

Netanyahu’s previous number two in the Likud, former minister Gideon Sa’ar, clarified that the decision that passed does not apply to the Palestinian Authority or areas populated by Palestinians but only the Jews living in Judea and Samaria. The decision does not call for annexation, which would mean that Israel would control all of the land and all of its residents.

“In the jubilee year since the liberation of Judea and Samaria, including our eternal capital Jerusalem, the Likud central committee calls upon the elected officials of the Likud to work towards free construction and application of Israeli law and sovereignty in all liberated areas of settlement in Judea and Samaria,” the decision said.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who lived in Gush Etzion in Judea for many years, explained that in the current situation, Jews who live over the Green Line do not receive the same privileges as their counterparts in pre-1967 Israel.

“We can no longer accept that our friends in Gush Etzion, Shiloh, Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumim will be second-class citizens,” Edelstein said. “The time has come for building in all of the land. The time has come for proper infrastructure.

The time has come for sovereignty.”

The central committee was convened after party activists Shevah Stern and Natan Engelsman gathered the signatures of more than 900 central committee members requesting the meeting. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said credit for the central committee’s decision belonged to Women For Israel’s Tomorrow heads Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover, who persuaded nearly the entire Likud faction that the time for sovereignty had come.

Ma’aleh Adumim mayor Benny Kashriel called upon the MKs to pass the sovereignty bill in the Knesset immediately, while Trump is president.

“If we don’t do it now, when will we be able to?” he said.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog responded that the central committee’s decision harmed Israel’s interests and Netanyahu knew it.

“Netanyahu was too scared to come to his party and tell them the truth,” Herzog said. “That is the difference between a leader and a politician.”

Peace Now accused the Likud of “becoming a marionette controlled by Bennett.”

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