Settler leader says annexation plan like being forced to eat cake at gunpoint
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Other settler chiefs said calling for his resignation

Settler leader says annexation plan like being forced to eat cake at gunpoint

Day after coming under fire for criticizing Trump, David Elhayani says he has a duty to speak out against what he sees as an ‘existential threat’ posed by the US peace proposal

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)
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)

A top settler leader on Thursday compared the pressure from Washington and Jerusalem to accept the Trump administration’s peace plan to being force-fed cake on pain of severe bodily harm.

Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani has been leading settler opposition to the US plan, which includes annexation of wide swaths of the West Bank but leaves open the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Speaking to Army Radio a day after being rebuked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for speaking out against the plan, Elhayani said 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 sovereignty, telling the station he was concerned not just for the safety of Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley or other areas of the West Bank, but for the safety of all of Israel’s citizens.

His comments have 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.

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)

Elhayani also doubled down on his remarks about US President Donald Trump from the day before, in which he told the Haaretz daily 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 Golan, 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.

“We must not give any chance for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said, and clarified that he was prepared to give up on Israeli sovereignty over some areas of the West Bank if it meant preventing a Palestinian state.

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)

Elhayani’s comments to Haaretz had drawn 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 Jordan, a unified Jerusalem, the disarming of Hamas, ending the right of return [for Palestinian] refugees to enter Israel, and more,” he said. Hamas is a Palestinian terror group that rules in the Gaza Strip.

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

Netanyahu’s comments echo 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.

An Israeli-US mapping committee has for the past several months has 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.

A Palestinian shepherd herds his flock near the Israeli settlement of Argaman, in the Jordan Valley, a strip of West Bank land along the border with Jordan, Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

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 joint US-Israel mapping committee concludes its work, which the White House has declared a precondition that must be met before it would give a green light for annexation, the source said.

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