Netanyahu ally says Israel hasn’t adopted Trump plan, only parts of it
US has indicated annexation requires full acceptance of plan

Netanyahu ally says Israel hasn’t adopted Trump plan, only parts of it

Yuval Steinitz urges right-wing critics of peace proposal not to ‘squander historic opportunity’ to annex portions of West Bank, calls criticism ‘foolishness’

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)
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)

A senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said Thursday that the Israeli government has not fully adopted US President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, indicating that Jerusalem could be planning to accept only the parts that favor Israel, such as annexation of areas of the West Bank, and not others, such as the recognition of a future Palestinian state.

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.

“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,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio, amid growing complaints on the right against the founding of a Palestinian state, which under the proposal would come after Israel is allowed to annex portions of the West Bank.

“This is the best peace plan for us that the United States has ever put on the table,” he said in response to the criticism. “For us to say that we won’t take the 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.”

“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, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman 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,” Friedman said in comments published in Hebrew.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks during a press conference with US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House on January 28, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

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.

“Mr. President, your deal of the century is the opportunity of the century. And rest assured Israel will not miss this opportunity,” he said at the time.

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 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, Elhayani said, unacceptable.

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.

“It is a plan for division [of the territory],” he 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)

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

“I strongly condemn the words of the Yesha Council chairman,” Netanyahu said in a statement that insisted that “President Trump is a great friend of the State of Israel.”

“President Trump’s vision for peace includes [a requirement of the Palestinians] to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Israeli security control throughout the territory west of the Jordan [River], a unified Jerusalem, the disarming of Hamas, ending the right of return [for Palestinian] refugees to enter Israel, and more,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that, instead of gratitude, there is someone who is trying to deny this friendship, which has never been better,” he added.

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.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US embassy in Jerusalem on March 21, 2019. (Jim Young/Pool/AFP)

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.

“If someone comes to me with a cake while holding a gun to my head will I just take some cake and then say goodbye?” he said. “My duty is to save us from the existential threats.”

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

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.

Separately Wednesday, another prominent settler leader, who asked not to be named, told The Times of Israel that he and his colleagues are prepared to “blow up” Netanyahu’s plan to annex their towns in the West Bank if the premier persists in refusing to share the joint US-Israeli committee’s map.

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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