1. The right to annex: US Ambassador David Friedman said over the weekend that Israel had the right to annex 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 told the New York Times.
- The comments open “the door to American acceptance of what would be an enormously provocative act,” the paper notes.
- The Yedioth Ahronoth daily calls the comments “unprecedented.”
2. Maybe he meant good annexation? Some noted that Friedman’s comments were far from concrete, and could be referring to areas Israel might keep as part of land swaps in a future deal.
- Israel Hayom’s Amnon Lord writes that his words were not radical and merely pointed to the fact that the US could agree, as part of a diplomatic arrangement, to recognize Israeli sovereignty over settlement blocs or all settlements. “That’s not a big area of the West Bank. It’s much less than five percent,” he writes.
- On Twitter, though, David Halbfinger blows off the Gray Lady’s limit on column inches and Twitter’s tilt toward brevity with a number of threads expounding on his interview with Friedman, which he says make clear that he was not just open to annexation as part of a peace deal, but unilateral annexation as well.
Our newsy interview with @AmbUSIsrael David Friedman left some wondering whether his openness to Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank was merely in the context of a negotiated settlement. Short answer: No.
(Get some coffee, long THREAD coming.)
— David Halbfinger (@halbfinger) June 9, 2019
3. Who is he speaking for? Not for the first time, the mothership was quick to disavow Friedman’s comments, with a US official telling Reuters that “no plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of any portion of the West Bank has been presented by Israel to the US, nor is it under discussion.”
- But Haaretz’s Noa Landau writes that “previous experience teaches that such statements themselves do not necessarily reflect the president’s position. Friedman is a better barometer for the atmospheric pressure in the Oval Room.”
- Yedioth’s Orly Azulay also writes that Friedman is a smart enough lawyer that he wouldn’t open his mouth “unless he understood that Trump’s signature was on whatever he said, and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu was already in the picture.”
4. ‘Extreme Ambassador of the Settlers:’ In either case, the Palestinians and other were not waiting around for clarifications, with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat tweeting that the US’s vision is for “a war crime under international law,” and calling Friedman “Extreme Ambassdor of the Settlers.”
President Trump’s ambassador provides enough background in order for everyone not to attend the Manama meeting: Their vision is about annexation of occupied territory, a war crime under international law. https://t.co/RqDSdcK3Gx
— Dr. Saeb Erakat الدكتور صائب عريقات (@ErakatSaeb) June 8, 2019
The Irony Jeremy is that this Extreme Ambassdor of the Settlers , really believes that he knows what Palestinians need, aspire , and hope, more than any of them . https://t.co/b3eNiQPn6D
— Dr. Saeb Erakat الدكتور صائب عريقات (@ErakatSaeb) June 8, 2019
- On top of that, Ramallah goes as far as threatening to file a complaint with the ICC over Friedman’s remarks.
- Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev writes that the comments seem to be part of a larger campaign by the Trump administration to “troll the Palestinians into submission.”
- UAE-based The National calls Friedman’s comments “deeply troubling.”
- “With Israel heading towards another round of elections after Mr Netanyahu’s failure to form a government and Mr Kushner still to unveil his long-awaited plan, it is far from guaranteed that annexation will take place. However, the open discussion of the possibility by Israel and the qualified support of high-ranking US officials, creates an environment in which the prospect of Palestinian statehood dwindles by the day,” the paper’s lead editorial reads.
5. Annex, baby, annex: Netanyahu hasn’t spoken up about Friedman’s comments as of this writing, but Israel Hayom, often seeing as his mouthpiece, blasts the ambassador’s words across its front page, which is a pretty solid endorsement.
- Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein praises Friedman, telling the paper that “the ambassador said something clear to all and which already has wide consensus,” noting the number of Israelis already living in the West Bank. “Anyone who attacks [annexation] is ignoring reality.”
- In Yedioth, columnist Shlomo Pyoterofsky laments the fact that Israel is too caught up in yet another election campaign to fully embrace the “historic opportunity” being presented by the Trump administration.
- “Instead of being busy building a new diplomatic paradigm, Israel is busy with unending internal battles,” he complains.
- Perhaps seeing the moment as a chance to win some right-wing voters, Blue and White’s Yoaz Hendel claims that Friedman’s comments are in line with the party’s platform.
- But Channel 13 reporter Barak Ravid tweets that he’s read the platform, authored by Hendel and others, and there is nothing in there about unilateral annexation. “So either Hendel didn’t read it, or is a liar,” he charges.
6. RSVPeace: The comments will likely cast an even darker shadow over the US conference in Manama, but that conference’s success is increasingly looking as likely a snowstorm in June.
- Channel 13 reports that Israel has yet to receive an official invitation. The problem is the US wants some key Arab states to respond with who, if anyone, they are sending, before bringing Israel in.
- According to Channel 13, the US is particularly anxious to hear back from Egypt and Jordan, the two countries that have full peace treaties with Israel and are reported to also be intended beneficiaries of the billions of dollars in aid that the US is hoping wealthy Gulf states will be willing to pledge at the Bahrain summit on June 25-26.
- Axios, which runs a version of the same story, notes that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who would be Israel’s representative, “is waiting to see if Israel gets an invitation in the next few days in order to decide whether to go to Washington before the conference to coordinate with [Jared] Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.”
- Though Gulf support, and money, is a linchpin of the Manama conference, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani hints to reporters that his Gulf state is not quite on board with the US’s plans.
- “As far as we see, right now there is a disconnect between the Palestinians and the US,” he says, according to al-Jazeera. “Our position remains very firm: we are going to support any plan that the Palestinians are willing to accept.”
- And if there was any doubt, Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi gives the plan, which has not yet been released, a hard no.
- “From the beginning, it appeared farcical that a group of ideologically driven men with personal ties to the U.S. president and Israel, no experience in world politics and no interest in international law or the universality of human rights could deliver peace to the Middle East,” she writes in Newsweek.
7. One-state upswing: The Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz ventures to the Palestinian street to gauge what she has heard is growing support for a one-state solution.
- “Maybe the good solution for us, for both Israelis and Palestinian people, is one state,” she quotes a Ramallah seafood restaurant-owner saying.
- But she notes that while many Palestinians want the economic opportunities espoused by the Trump administration, for many that’s not enough.
- Unfortunately, “Israeli and Palestinian visions of a ‘one-state solution’ are so different as to be incompatible,” she tweets, unhopefully.
Still, Israeli and Palestinian visions of a “one-state solution” are so different as to be incompatible. 6/ https://t.co/5BLXJvFhEH
— Felicia Schwartz (@felschwartz) June 9, 2019
- On the Common Dreams website, Juan Cole takes issue with the Wall Street Journal’s conflation of supporting one-state with giving up on an independent Palestine, accusing the paper of “trolling Palestinians.”
- “Being stateless was defined by Hannah Arendt as forfeiting the right to have rights. Faced with the possibility of achieving the rights of citizenship in any state and remaining stateless, the Palestinians prefer the former, as anyone would,” he writes. “But that is not the same as accepting the stateless Bantustans proffered by Kushner.”