Meeting US envoy, Israeli peace activists urge a two-state solution

Peace Now head says she didn’t leave sit-down with David Friedman feeling hopeful that US administration will be able to deliver a just solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the ceremony for the new town of Ramat Trump, named for US President Donald Trump, on the Golan Heights, June 16, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the ceremony for the new town of Ramat Trump, named for US President Donald Trump, on the Golan Heights, June 16, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

US Ambassador David Friedman on Monday met with a group of Israeli peace activists, who encouraged Washington to pursue a two-state framework for its peace plan that is set to be released in the coming weeks.

The meeting was the first of its kind between Friedman, an envoy known for his close ties to settler organizations, and left-wing grassroots groups who have been heavily critical of the Trump administration’s policies toward the Palestinians.

The hour-and-a-half long sit-down was initiated by Gadi Baltianksy, whose organization the Geneva Initiative works to promote a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. He was joined by representatives from Peace Now, Darkenu, the Peace and Security Association, Mehakzim, Have You Seen the Horizon and activist Yariv Oppenheimer, a former director of Peace Now.

In a Tuesday statement, Peace Now said its executive director Shaqued Morag told Friedman that “most Israeli citizens favor a solution guaranteeing peace and security over the ideological, Greater Israel one-state vision, which would spell an end to Israel’s democracy.”

(From L-R) Democratic Camp chairman Nitzan Horwitz, former Meretz MK Mossi Raz, former Peace Now executive director Yariv Oppenheimer and current director Shaqued Morag stand outside an illegal outpost in the central West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Peace Now)

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Morag said Friedman “wasn’t a partner until now, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

She said the US ambassador “did not provide satisfying answers” addressing her concerns over recent “unilateral moves” made by Washington.

Since late 2017, the Trump administration has made several moves seen as marginalizing the Palestinian Authority, namely recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US embassy in the Jewish state from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians and the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, and closing the PLO representative office in Washington — all policies that Peace Now opposed.

In June, the organization called for Trump to fire Friedman after the US envoy told The New York Times that some degree of Israeli annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate in his eyes. The left-wing NGO went as far at the time as to call Friedman a “Trojan horse sent by the settler right, who sabotages Israel’s interests and the chance for peace.”

Nonetheless, Morag described Monday’s meeting as cordial and said Friedman expressed interest in again meeting with the activists after the Jewish holidays end in October.

US President Donald Trump smiles at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, after signing a proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, in Washington, DC, on March 25, 2019. (AP/Susan Walsh)

On Monday, US President Donald Trump was asked by reporters whether he planned to introduce the political portion of his administration’s peace plan before the Israeli elections on September 17. He first said “No of course not” but moments later added “but I think you may see what the deal is before the election,” sparking confusion as to Washington’s intentions.

The US has so far kept the political elements of its plan under wraps, while the economic aspects of the proposal were presented in June by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner at an American-led conference in Bahrain. The economic side of the plan would see a $50 billion investment package for the Palestinians and the wider region.

The Palestinians skipped the Bahrain conference and have rejected the peace plan outright, pressing on with their boycott of the administration that began in December 2017 after the Jerusalem recognition.

Baltianksy told The Times of Israel that the sides did not get into specifics regarding the administration’s peace plan and spoke more generally about the issues.

He said the activists presented various figures indicating that a majority of Israelis oppose West Bank annexation, a one-state solution and a continuation of the status-quo.

Baltiansky added that Friedman had been “polite and respectful.”

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