Breaking with colleagues, 6 settler mayors meet with US envoy to talk peace plan

Breaking with colleagues, 6 settler mayors meet with US envoy to talk peace plan

West Bank municipality heads who opposed Yesha Council’s lashing out against Trump proposal thank David Friedman for Washington’s willingness to okay annexation

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (4th from right) tours the Efrat settlement with settler leaders on February 20, 2020. (Courtesy)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (4th from right) tours the Efrat settlement with settler leaders on February 20, 2020. (Courtesy)

A group of settler mayors met with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Thursday and thanked the envoy for his administration’s peace plan, breaking with a majority of their colleagues who have come out in opposition to the proposal that envisions the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“All of the mayors have expressed a strong desire to see the vision implemented and this meeting was an opportunity to provide constructive feedback toward that goal,” said Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi in a statement after hosting the meeting in his West Bank settlement southeast of Jerusalem.

Revivi was joined by five other mayors from the West Bank settlements of Ariel, Elkana, Karnei Shomron, Alfei Menashe and Oranit.

In a joint statement, the six West Bank council chairmen said that US President Donald Trump’s plan “safeguards Israel’s security, ensures Israel will be able to apply its sovereignty to all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, and provides the region with a realistic path toward peace.”

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (L) shakes hands with Karnei Shomron Local Council chairman Igal Lahav in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on February 20, 2020. (Nir Bartal)

Notably, no mention was made regarding the plan’s granting of a sovereign, albeit non-contiguous Palestinian state on roughly 70 percent of what remains of the West Bank. Ariel Mayor Eli Shaviro told The Times of Israel last month that he was willing to live with such a result, given the security guarantees for Jerusalem provided by the plan.

It was unclear whether the five other settler mayors present Thursday felt the same.

The Ariel mayor even resigned from the Yesha Council umbrella body of 24 settlement mayors over the group’s quick dismissal of the Trump plan.

Karnei Shomron Mayor Igal Lahav said the issue of a Palestinian state under the plan is not what he and his colleagues are currently focused on given that he didn’t “believe there is a partner on the other side.”

He added that “it’s best to focus on the parts of the plan that are good for us and this is sovereignty [over West Bank settlements].”

Lahav took serious issue with the way senior settler leaders responded to the Trump plan.

Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani told reporters that the US plan’s senior architect Jared Kushner has “stabbed a knife in the back of Israel” when he warned Jerusalem against immediate and uncoordinated West Bank annexation. Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan publicly called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “put [the US] in its place.”

“Is the plan perfect? No. But did [those critics] read it before slamming it? Also no,” Lahav said, expressing deep disappointment in the behavior of his colleagues.

Israelis protest in Jerusalem in favor of annexing the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank, February 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I had recommended that they all take a two-week vacation after the plan was published,” he quipped, hoping that if the more hard-line members were out of town, they wouldn’t publicly spurn what has been largely acknowledged as the most pro-settlement White House proposal in US history.

While Lahav added that the sides were working to advance the mapping of the West Bank necessary for Washington to move forward with its recognition of Israeli sovereignty over all settlements and the Jordan Valley, Karnei Shomron’s mayor said the mapping team had yet to make it to his town. He speculated that the process would not be completed until well after the March 2 election.

Thursday’s sit-down was the first time that a US ambassador held a working meeting with Israeli mayors in the West Bank, Revivi’s office added.

In another apparent swipe at his more hawkish colleagues, Revivi added, “We believe that when you listen, it provides an opportunity to be heard. We look forward to further engaging with more regional leaders toward implementing the Vision for Peace.”

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