US Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt said Tuesday that Israel should not move ahead with possible plans to annex parts of the West Bank, at least before the Trump administration’s peace plan comes out.
“I don’t think anyone should make unilateral moves until we at least reveal the plan. I don’t think that’s helpful to anybody,” he told Channel 12 news.
Greenblatt confirmed to the news channel that Israeli officials will not be present at the Bahrain economic workshop, where the US is set to lay out an economic component of its plan.
“To depoliticize the issue, we have decided to not have the Israeli government there and just have the Israeli private sector there,” he said.
Greenblatt added that Israeli officials will be brought in at a later point and will “be very helpful in the ideas that are generated and [will] improve them as well.”
While expressing confidence in Israel and chiding the Palestinian Authority for boycotting the conference, he cautioned against possible West Bank annexation plans. But he did not discount a move being made once the administration’s long-awaited plan is revealed.
The Palestinians have strongly opposed the June 25-26 conference in Manama and urged Arab states to stay away, arguing it will prioritize economic issues over a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Greenblatt defended the workshop as one part of a two-part scheme meant to plan for what economic benefits Palestinians can enjoy if a peace deal is reached, and said claims that the workshop was for an economic peace only or that it was an attempt “to buy off the Palestinians” are “completely untrue.”
The idea, he said, was to showcase: “If we achieve a political agreement, here’s what could happen, here are the many great things that the Palestinians could benefit from.”
Greenblatt said he was not disappointed in the Palestinians because he was not surprised by their decision to stay away from the meeting. “They make decisions not helpful not only for peace, but also for their people,” he said.
Asked about the plan possibly failing, he said: “I do think that we have to try to work toward something, but if we fail I understand why as well.”
On Sunday, Greenblatt backed comments by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in support of Israel retaining some parts of the West Bank.
“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” Friedman said.
An anonymous American official later said Israel has not presented a plan for annexation of any parts of the West Bank, and no such plan is under discussion with the US.
During his campaign for the general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to gradually annex 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 a 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.”
Agencies contributed to this report.