The head of the left-wing Meretz party on Monday issued strong criticism of US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, accusing him of acting on his own initiative in pushing Israel to annex parts of the West Bank.
“The prime minister has an obsession with annexation,” MK Nitzan Horowitz said at the start of a Meretz Knesset faction meeting. “Besides US Ambassador David Friedman… no one understands the obsession with annexation.”
The Trump administration peace proposal, unveiled in January, designates some 30 percent of the West Bank for Israeli annexation and the rest for a prospective Palestinian state. Under a coalition agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can begin to unilaterally advance annexation on July 1, which he has repeatedly pledged to do — although the move is likely to be delayed.
“There is no one, not in the US government, not among Israel’s friends around the world, state leaders, neighbors, Jordanians, Palestinians, Europeans, the IDF leadership — no one understands the obsession with annexation,” he said.
“I say this with full knowledge: Aside from Ambassador David Friedman, who in this issue represents only himself, no one wants this annexation, and I hope that in a couple of days a step will be averted that would have a very heavy price,” he continued.
Citing the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic fallout, the Meretz chief said, “Of course for Americans, just as for Israelis, annexation is at the bottom of the list of priorities.
“What needs to be done now is to deal with the economy and allow people to live, and to abandon the madness of annexation,” Horowitz added.
According to reports, while Friedman is pushing for Israel to swiftly move forward with extending sovereignty over West Bank lands, other US administration officials have reservations about the move. The plan is also widely opposed by the broader international community.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz met Monday with US President Donald Trump’s peace envoy Avi Berkowitz and Friedman, his office said, the latest in a series of meetings as Israel and the US attempt to coordinate and map out plans to begin to implement the US administration’s peace proposal.
“July 1 is not a sacred date,” Gantz told Berkowitz, a source close to Gantz told The Times of Israel. “Dealing with the coronavirus and its socioeconomic and health consequences is the more pressing issue that needs to be attended to right now.”
Later, at his own Blue and White party’s faction meeting, Gantz gave another indication of delays in annexation, saying that “whatever is not connected to the campaign against the coronavirus will wait.”
A Channel 13 news report earlier this month said that Friedman, who had flown back to the US for meetings about the annexation in Washington before returning to Israel, strongly backs Netanyahu’s declared intention to go ahead with the move starting July 1, while Kushner is more ambivalent.
The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority has rejected the US peace proposal out of hand.
The Times of Israel reported earlier this month that the White House was “highly unlikely” to green-light Israeli annexation by July 1, and that more work was needed on the mapping of the territories.