Germany and Jordan’s top diplomats on Sunday reaffirmed their countries’ support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ahead of a long-awaited US peace plan.
“We are still in agreement that reaching a two-state solution through negotiations is the only solution,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said during a press conference in Amman with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi.
Safadi confirmed that “the two-state solution is the only way to end the conflict.”
The German and Jordanian ministers also stressed the importance of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, just weeks after the US called for it to be dismantled after cutting its roughly $300 million annual donation.
The meeting in Jordan came ahead of talks between Maas and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Monday in an attempt to save the nuclear deal and dial down tensions between Washington and Tehran, a German diplomatic source told the Reuters news agency.
The US is set to lay out an economic component of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan on June 25 and 26 in Bahrain, where Gulf Arab states are expected to make pledges to boost the troubled Palestinian economy.
But it is not clear when the political aspects of the plan — which is expected to avoid calling for the creation of a Palestinian state — will be unveiled.
Abandoning the call for a Palestinian state would end years of US support for the so-called two-state solution, which envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The Palestinians have already dismissed US President Donald Trump’s peace plan and said they will not attend the Bahrain summit, rejecting it as heavily biased in favor of Israel.
Mass and Safadi met a day after US ambassador to Israel David Friedman was quoted by the New York Times as saying Israel had the “right” to annex at least “some” of the West Bank. In a statement Sunday, the Palestinian Authority said it will consider filing a complaint at the International Criminal Court against Friedman for his comments.
In an interview published by the New York Times on Saturday, Friedman said that some degree of annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate.
“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” he said.
Friedman said the Obama administration, by declining to veto and thus allowing passage of a United Nations resolution in 2016 that condemned Israeli settlements as a “flagrant violation” of international law, had given credence to Palestinian claims “that the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem belong to them.” To the contrary, “certainly Israel’s entitled to retain some portion of it,” he said, referring to the West Bank.
During campaigning for the general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to gradually annex all West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long supported by nearly all lawmakers in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties, and said he hoped to do so with US support.
Friedman, in the New York Times interview, declined to specify how the US might respond to unilateral Israeli annexation, saying: “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves… These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.”
An American official responded to Friedman’s comments on Saturday, saying Israel has not presented a plan for annexation of any of the West Bank, nor is any such plan under discussion with the US.
“No plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of any portion of the West Bank has been presented by Israel to the US, nor is it under discussion,” a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. Israel’s Channel 12 indicated the official was from the US State Department.
In December 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It moved its embassy, headed by Friedman, to the city in May 2018. In March, shortly before Israeli general elections, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. Also in March, for the first time, the Trump administration ceased to refer to the West Bank as “occupied” in the State Department’s annual report on human rights around the world.
Friedman said “There’s more blame on the Palestinian side” for the failure to resolve the conflict to date, while allowing that Israel had “made its own mistakes” too. “There were some extraordinarily generous proposals made to the Palestinians that they turned down,” he said.
Asked by the New York Times whether the Trump plan would provide for Palestinian statehood, Friedman responded: “What’s a state?”
He castigated the Palestinian Authority, citing its “very, very poor track record on human rights” and said its institutions “don’t give anyone in the region sufficient comfort that Palestinian autonomy is not threatening… The Palestinian leadership is really the difficulty right now.”
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat has said any Israeli annexation policy would be tantamount to “US complicity with Israeli colonial plans.”
‘Failed state helps nobody’
The public comments made by administration officials so far suggest the US plan will lean heavily on substantial financial support for the Palestinian economy, much of it funded by the Gulf Arab states, in return for concessions on territory and statehood.
“The absolute last thing the world needs is a failed Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan,” Friedman said in the Times interview.
“Maybe they won’t take it, maybe it doesn’t meet their minimums… We’re relying upon the fact that the right plan, for the right time, will get the right reaction over time,” he said.
Friedman, a staunch supporter of the Israeli settlements, told the Times that the Trump plan was aimed at improving the quality of life for Palestinians but would be unlikely to quickly enable a “permanent resolution to the conflict.”
Friedman said the plan would not be released at all if the administration concluded it would do more harm than good. “We don’t want to make things worse… Our goal is not to show how smart we are at the expense of people’s safety.”
He said he did not believe the plan would trigger Palestinian violence.
But he said the United States would coordinate closely with Arab ally Jordan, which could face unrest among its large Palestinian population over a plan perceived as overly favorable to Israel.
Publication of the plan already looks set to be further delayed after the Knesset called a snap general election for September, the second this year.
The plan is regarded as too sensitive to release during the campaign.
Meanwhile, Trump administration officials have been dampening expectations about the peace plan rollout. Senior White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in an interview broadcast Sunday expressed doubts about the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves without Israeli involvement. “The hope is that over time, they can become capable of governing,” he told the Axios news site.
On Monday, the Washington Post published leaked remarks made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told US Jewish leaders in a closed-door conversation that the plan might not “gain traction.”
When asked about Pompeo’s skepticism, Trump told reporters outside the White House: “He may be right.”