Jerusalem minister: ‘We will not accept’ Palestinian state in Trump peace plan

Rafi Peretz vows to ‘oppose any mention’ of establishing state in West Bank amid growing opposition to provision in White House blueprint, as Israel moves toward annexation

Then Education Minister Rafi Peretz speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Then Education Minister Rafi Peretz speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Jerusalem and Heritage Minister Rafi Peretz said Friday that he would oppose parts of the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan amid a growing chorus of right-wing opposition to the Palestinian state outlined in the plan.

Peretz’s statement came a day after a senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, said that the Israeli government has not fully adopted the plan, indicating that Jerusalem could be planning to accept only the parts that favor Israel.

The US has indicated that its recognition for unilateral annexation in the West Bank is contingent on Israel working within the framework of the plan. The Palestinians have rejected the plan outright.

Peretz, who heads the right-wing Jewish Home faction, in a Facebook post said he would not accept the establishment of a Palestinian state, which is included in the outline.

“We’re situated at a historic crossroads, the deal of the century holds great opportunity — the opportunity to apply our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria,” Peretz wrote, referring to the West Bank by its Biblical names.

“President Trump is a true friend of the State of Israel and I’m sure that his intentions were for benefiting Israel. This has been proven in his recognition of the Golan, and in Jerusalem transferring the US embassy to the capital,” Peretz wrote.

“But there are sections of the plan that we will not accept. We will not accept the establishment of a Palestinian state in my homeland. I will oppose any mention of a Palestinian state in legislation to come,” he said, adding that he would not accept a freeze on building in settlements.

“This is a golden opportunity that we must take advantage of but we must not make decisions that will cause long-term damage to the State of Israel and our values,” he said. “We will oppose steps that will advance the establishment of an additional state between the Jordan and the sea.”

Peretz’s coalition agreement with Netanyahu stipulates that he needs to support any of the prime minister’s positions, either directly or indirectly, on the application of sovereignty.

Peretz bolted from his right-wing allies in the Yamina alliance to join Netanyahu’s governing coalition last month.

Steinitz on Thursday told Army Radio, “We didn’t announce that we’re adopting the Trump plan, but rather parts of it, including the part that lets us extend Israeli law to settlements and the Jordan Valley.”

“This is the best peace plan for us that the United States has ever put on the table,” he said in response to growing complaints on the right against the founding of a Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz during a Likud party meeting at the Knesset on May 29, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“For us to say that we won’t take sovereignty because it doesn’t give us everything is foolishness. To say that Trump is no friend of Israel is doubly foolish. It is very unwise and could lead to the squandering of a historic opportunity,” Steinitz said.

“Of course, as long as the Palestinians don’t accept the plan and won’t even negotiate on its basis, we are definitely not endorsing it ahead of time — not all of its parts,” Steinitz said.

Last month, the US Ambassador to Israel indicated that American backing for Israeli annexation in the West Bank was contingent on Israel working within the framework of the Trump plan.

“When the mapping process is over, when the Israeli government agrees to freeze building in the same parts of Area C that aren’t designated for the application of sovereignty and when the prime minister agrees to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the Trump plan — and he already agreed to this on the first day — we’ll recognize Israel’s sovereignty in areas that according to the plan will be a part of it,” David Friedman said in comments published in Hebrew.

Speaking alongside Trump earlier this year as Washington unveiled the peace plan, Netanyahu did not explicitly say that he accepted the plan in its entirety, though he praised it throughout, and implied his acceptance of the terms of the deal and his commitment to fulfill all the demands made of Israel.

Some politicians and top settler leaders have publicly come out against the US plan in recent days, led by Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani, who told the Haaretz daily on Wednesday that Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner have shown through their peace proposal that “they are not friends of the State of Israel.”

While he conceded there was no doubt that Trump has “done wonderful things for Israel,” such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and acting against the Iranians, the establishment of a Palestinian state is unacceptable, Elhayani said.

David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council and the Yesha Council of West Bank mayors, at a Yesha protest tent near the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, February 4, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If Trump wants to establish a Palestinian state near the heart of Israel, between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, he said, addressing the US president, “then you are not a friend.”

Such a state, he stressed, “is a danger to Israel.”

Elhayani warned that as soon as Israel extended sovereignty to some areas it would effectively be recognizing the borders of a future Palestinian state, and that Washington intended to build on that development to implement the rest of the peace plan.

The comments drew harsh rebuke from Netanyahu and other right-wing leaders.

Netanyahu’s comments echoed what one settler leader told The Times of Israel had been the message relayed to him by American officials. He said Washington had been disappointed by the “ingratitude” demonstrated by West Bank mayors campaigning against the peace plan.

However, Elhayani doubled down on his remarks on Thursday, telling Army Radio he had no choice but to warn Israel about what he sees as a dangerous proposal.

Elhayani, who chairs the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors, rebuffed accusations that he was being ungrateful to Washington as it offers to recognize Israeli sovereignty, telling the station he was concerned not just for the safety of settlements in the Jordan Valley and other areas of the West Bank, but for the safety of all of Israel’s citizens.

His comments prompted some other settler leaders to call for his resignation, Channel 13 reported, with an internal WhatsApp group of settler chiefs featuring several bitter criticisms of his comments and accusations that he was “humiliating” the settlers.

An Israeli-US mapping committee has for the past several months been working to delineate the exact parts of the West Bank territory over which Washington is prepared to recognize Israeli sovereignty.

Elhayani and nearly a dozen other settler leaders have been insisting on seeing the map before it is finalized in order to influence how the borders will be drawn.

They have taken particular issue with the conceptual map introduced at the Trump plan’s January unveiling in Washington, which depicted 15 isolated Israeli settlements as enclaves surrounded by land earmarked for the future Palestinian state. The Palestinians have rejected the entire Trump plan outright.

The US administration is highly unlikely to approve an Israeli move to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank by the July 1 date envisioned by Netanyahu, a well-placed source told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

In fact, it could take weeks and possibly months before the mapping committee concludes its work, which the White House has declared as a precondition that must be met before it would give a green light for annexation, the source said.

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