Two top settler leaders accuse Trump of ‘scamming’ Israel with peace plan

Two top settler leaders accuse Trump of ‘scamming’ Israel with peace plan

Yesha Council head and colleague claim Washington trying to use its support for annexation to force Israel into agreeing to Palestinian statehood, which they oppose

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani (L) and Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan. (Flash90)
Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani (L) and Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan. (Flash90)

Two senior settler leaders on Thursday lashed out at the Trump administration for seeking to “scam” Israel with its peace plan.

“Representatives of the US government are [trying to] sell Plan A under the guise of Plan B. There is no greater scam than this,” Yesha settlement umbrella council chairman David Elhayani told the Ynet news site, claiming that Washington is trying to use its support for annexation to force Israel to agree to the formation of a Palestinian state.

It is unclear why Elhayani spoke of two separate plans when both US support for Israeli annexation and the establishment of a non-contiguous Palestinian state — if it meets a host of requirements — are part of the single Trump peace plan.

US Ambassador David Friedman said Wednesday that the US was prepared to recognize Israeli annexation within weeks.

In an interview with the pro-Likud Israel Hayom daily published Wednesday, Friedman said that it is up to Israel to decide whether it wants to move forward with annexing settlements but that if it does, Washington will recognize the move.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (4th from right) tours the Efrat settlement with settler leaders on February 20, 2020. (Courtesy)

But Elhayani was not impressed.

“Not for nothing is Ambassador Friedman not talking about [Israel accepting] a Palestinian state, but instead the ‘Trump plan.’ He knows that specifying this fact will cause public opposition,” Elhayani told Ynet.

“We will not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of the process of [enacting Israeli] sovereignty [in the West Bank]. Sovereignty is important to Israel’s security, but it is not worth damaging even a centimeter of the State of Israel and establishing a terror state in the heartland of the country,” added Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan.

Ultimately, settler leaders will have to reconcile with the recently inked unity deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Gantz, which allows the Likud leader to begin advancing legislation on annexation — but within the context of the Trump plan and its envisioning of the establishment of a semi-autonomous Palestinian state — starting on July 1.

Several of the 24 Israeli mayors of West Bank towns have expressed willingness to accept the Trump plan. In a statement responding to the Friedman interview, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi called on his fellow settler leaders to exercise the “courage… to say yes [to the Trump plan], despite the conditions and challenges posed by this agreement, and to enact Israeli law in Judea and Samaria. In my opinion, this is a formative time, and we must not miss the opportunity to change a generation.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and 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)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel next week and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, several Hebrew media outlets reported Wednesday, speculating that the top American diplomat will use the opportunity to further bilateral cooperation on annexation.

There was no official confirmation of the reports, though Pompeo told reporters he would soon make a travel-related announcement when asked about plans to visit Israel.

According to the proposed Trump plan, the US will recognize an Israeli application of sovereignty over parts of the West Bank following the completion of a survey conducted by a joint US-Israel mapping committee and Israel’s acceptance of both a four-year freeze of the areas earmarked for a future Palestinian state and a commitment to negotiate with the Palestinians based on the terms of Trump’s peace deal.

The Palestinian Authority and much of the international community have rejected the plan. Senior officials in the European Union and United Nations have warned Israel against the intention to annex parts of the West Bank, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saying that such a move “would constitute a serious violation of international law.”

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