Premier says his plan won't mention Palestinian statehood

Netanyahu said to tell settlers US enthusiasm for annexation ‘may have lessened’

Official at talks tells ToI the PM told West Bank mayors Washington’s stance has toughened, application of sovereignty may not happen as quickly, or at the scope previously planned

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk with reporters before a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, January 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk with reporters before a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, January 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In a meeting with settler leaders Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that the Trump administration was toughening its stance on the new Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, and signaled that any such effort might be delayed, according to a settler official who took part in the meeting.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel that the premier also told the West Bank mayors that the United States “may have lessened its enthusiasm about seeing sovereignty carried out.”

US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, unveiled in January at a White House ceremony attended by Netanyahu, would allow Israel to apply sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley. It would also designate most of the rest of the West Bank for a Palestinian state should the Palestinians meet a series of conditions.

Netanyahu has said repeatedly he plans to move forward with unilaterally annexing these areas beginning next month, though the US has reportedly told him to “slow the process.”

The official said settler leaders left the “intense” meeting under the impression that annexation would not be taking place “as soon or in the scope” that had initially been pledged by Netanyahu.

While supporting annexation, prominent settler leaders have come out against the Trump plan for its backing of a Palestinian state. They also oppose the proposal’s transformation of 15 settlements into isolated enclaves encircled by the future Palestinian state, with their objections based on a conceptual map released by the US in January.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (2nd-L) at the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel on February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

The settler official said Netanyahu told settler leaders the annexation plan he will bring before the government won’t mention Palestinian statehood.

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020.

The settler leaders responded that “even higher on our list of concerns than statehood is the map” being drawn up by a joint US-Israeli committee for the exact areas Israel will apply sovereignty over, the official said. The West Bank mayors had been hoping to get a look at the map at Tuesday’s meeting but were once again rebuffed, according to the official.

They also voiced their objection to the 15 isolated settlements and the requirement that Israel refrain from building in areas earmarked for a Palestinian state, including around the proposed enclaves, the settler official said.

However, Netanyahu explained that “in order to receive sovereignty, we have to give something in return,” according to the official, who added that the chairman of the Yesha umbrella council of setter mayors, David Elhayani, responded by asserting that if he has to decide between pushing off annexation or agreeing to the establishment of a Palestinian state, he will choose the former.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second from left, meets with Yesha Council leaders at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 27, 2017. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

According to a report on Channel 13 news, Netanyahu gave settler leaders at the meeting no indication of when the process might move forward, never once mentioning his previously stated goal of launching the annexation bid on July 1.

The report also said Netanyahu reprimanded the settler mayors for vocally criticizing the peace proposal, saying: “Your campaigns and statements against the Trump plan are only hindering the goal of annexation in as wide a scope as possible. You’re tickling the tail of the bear, and the bear isn’t even here yet.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said the quotes reported by Channel 13 were untrue.

Following the meeting, Netanyahu’s office released a statement calling on the settler leaders to get behind the “historic opportunity” to annex parts of the West Bank under Trump’s plan.

Netanyahu also said he is committed to negotiating with the Palestinians on the basis of the US proposal, his office said.

The sides met at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Opposition from a majority of Israeli mayors in the West Bank to the Trump plan’s envisioning of a Palestinian state has crescendoed in recent days in a manner that has reportedly upset the White House.

“The Prime Minister said discussions with the Americans are still ongoing,” a statement from the PMO said, in an apparent reference to the joint Israeli-US mapping committee that is finalizing the borders of annexation Washington will be prepared to accept in the context of the plan.

Also Tuesday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told a meeting of donors to Palestinians that West Bank annexation will end chances for peace and “will not go unanswered.”

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi speaks during a press conference in the capital Amman on July 25, 2017. (AFP/Khalil Mazraawi)

If it does “there will only be fiercer conflict. Annexation will make the two-state solution an impossibility; it will make institutionalization of apartheid inevitable; it will diminish all chances for a lasting, comprehensive regional peace,” Safadi warned in an official statement.

Safadi said all efforts toward peace “could be lost” if annexation plans move ahead and called thwarting it the top priority for the international community.

“We warn of the grave consequences of the implementation of the annexation decision on the endeavor to achieve regional peace and on Jordanian-Israeli relations,” he said.

Jordan has been one of the most vocal opponents of Netanyahu’s annexation vow, which has also drawn sharp criticism from other Arab and some European countries.

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