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Israel’s justice minister explains why Trump is good for her West Bank plan

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, right, takes part in a Jewish Home party meeting in the Israeli parliament in February 2016, in Jerusalem (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
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JERUSALEM — The Trump administration has, so far, been less critical of unilateral Israeli policies in the occupied territories compared to its predecessors, and politicians on Israel's right have argued it is time to take advantage. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is one of them.

Shaked, 41, is second-in-command in the ardently Zionist, right-wing Jewish Home party, which draws the bulk of its support from the more than 400,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank.

She is an outspoken advocate of annexing parts of the West Bank territory that Palestinians hope to obtain for a future state. Just this week, a government committee she heads approved a bill that aims to extend the jurisdiction of Israel’s district courts over a portion of the West Bank she wants Israel to annex.

If this legislation becomes law, it would prevent Palestinians from petitioning Israel’s High Court over land disputes with the settlements, a development Palestinians fear will weaken their cause and strengthen Israel’s control of the land.

Her conservative views are influencing Israel’s legal system, too. She has made very clear that her goal is to make Israel’s Supreme Court, which commonly defends the rights of Palestinians in the Israeli occupied West Bank, more conservative and “less activist.”

Shaked’s faction provides critical support to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose political future is now in doubt after police recommended this month that he be indicted on corruption charges.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity:

Q: Netanyahu is under a lot of pressure after the police recommendation to indict him. Are there signs the pressure is taking a toll on him or on his coalition partners?

A: I spoke with the heads of the different parties, and everyone thinks that the coalition should continue functioning until the attorney general comes to a decision.

The situation is not optimal, but I meet with him every week in the cabinet and other government meetings, and he is functioning 100 percent. I don’t know what is going on outside the cabinet, or in his home, but when I meet him, he is 100 percent focused.

Q: At what point do you think he needs to resign?

According to the law, he can stay until the end of the trial. But, if the attorney general decides to submit an indictment, we will all need to reconsider our positions. [Coalition partner] Moshe Kahlon has already said if there is an indictment, he will call for elections.

Q: Talking about the law, your critics say you have tried to weaken the Supreme Court by controlling who sits on the bench.

A: This is my job. I am the head of the committee that selects judges to the court, and I am trying to influence the selection of the judges as much as I can. In the last session, we succeeded in nominating four suitable judges.

I am trying to change the character of the court, so it will be more conservative and less interfering in government decisions, less activist. And I think I have succeeded.

This is not something that can be done in one day, it’s a process. Israel’s Supreme Court is one of the best in the world, and I think that it should stay that way; I don’t want to weaken it, I just want to change its approach.

Q: But, in a democracy, the role of the court is to challenge the government, so isn’t what you are doing weakening it?

A: What has happened to the Supreme Court in Israel has not happened elsewhere in the world; the court has taken on extra powers over the past 15 years. It has decided that it can cancel laws and that it can decide if something is reasonable or not reasonable, which is not a legal decision at all.

We need to bring back the balance between the authorities. I don’t think I can change the fact that the court can cancel a law, but I think the court should only get involved in extreme issues like human rights violations.

Q: Do you believe it is time to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Palestinian territories?

A: Yes, definitely. The Palestinian Authority rules Area A, Area B has joint security coordination with Israel, but in Area C, there are half a million Israelis and 100,000 Palestinians. I think we should apply Israeli law that area and give full Israeli citizenship, with all its rights, to the Palestinians there.

Q: How do you envisage this working?

What will happen is that Israeli law will be applied in Area C, and Areas A and B will be part of a confederation, with Jordan and Gaza. I think any solution today needs to be part of a regional solution. It is not only Israel’s problem.

Q: If you are not talking about a Palestinian state, aren’t you talking about a continued occupation?

A: No. I’m talking about a confederation, that Area A, B and Gaza become part of Jordan, which is majority Palestinian anyway.

You know that in the 1980s, [Israeli peace activist] Abie Nathan was jailed because he met with [the late Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser] Arafat. It was illegal then to speak to Arafat. No one was talking about a two-state solution until the ’90s, then it became an acceptable solution.

Today, Israeli sovereignty in Area C and a confederation in area A and B with Jordan looks like a bizarre option to the international community, but this is something we will continue to talk about and explain.

I believe that in three years from now, the international community will understand this is the right solution.

Q: Does this idea look even more possible now that President Trump is in the White House?

A: Of course. With the Obama administration, this issue was more difficult. The White House is [now] more open, and I think Trump is a very brave president. He thinks outside the box and is not tied to the State Department’s old paradigms.

Loveday Morris in Jerusalem contributed to this report.