US officials tell settler leaders they're 'ungrateful'

Settler mayor: If Netanyahu won’t reveal annexation plan, we’ll ‘blow it up’

West Bank council head tells ToI his colleagues must be allowed to influence map detailing areas beyond the Green Line that will become part of Israel

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

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

A prominent settler leader told The Times of Israel Wednesday that he and his colleagues are prepared to “blow up” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex their towns in the West Bank — if the premier persists in refusing to share a map a joint US-Israeli committee is currently drawing up to delineate the scope of Israeli sovereignty beyond the Green Line.

“If Netanyahu continues to keep his cards close to his chest on this, we’ll have no choice but to blow it up,” threatened the West Bank mayor, who asked not to be identified by name.

The remarks came just 24 hours after roughly half a dozen members of the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors met with Netanyahu to raise their objections to the Trump plan due to its envisioning of a semi-autonomous, non-contiguous Palestinian state being established on roughly 70 percent of the West Bank.

While settler leaders have spoken out against the plan in recent weeks, the remark by the West Bank mayor appeared to represent the first threat by the group of nationalist ideologues to sabotage the US proposal, which Netanyahu has boasted of having endeavored for years to deliver.

The council chairman declined to elaborate as to how he and his colleagues intended to “blow up” the plan, but hawkish settler leaders do hold considerable clout both within the premier’s Likud party and in the broader right-wing camp.

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

Meanwhile, senior American officials have relayed to settler leaders in recent days that their ongoing opposition to the Trump plan, which seeks to recognize Israeli sovereignty over all settlements in the West Bank in addition to the Jordan Valley shows a great deal of “ingratitude,” the Kan public broadcaster reported.

During the Tuesday meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, the settler leaders asked to see the map the US-Israeli committee has been working on in recent months, but were politely told that wouldn’t be possible as it’s still in the early stages of formation, three officials who were at the meeting confirmed.

But the settler leaders insist 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 plan’s January unveiling, which depicted 15 isolated settlements as enclaves surrounded by land earmarked for the future Palestinian state.

Some 15,000 of the 450,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank live in communities slated to be transformed into enclaves. They are currently surrounded by Palestinian villages under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority,

Netanyahu told the settler leaders that he would pass along their concerns to the mapping committee in an effort to include those 15 settlements within the plan’s redrawn Israeli borders, but the West Bank mayors left the meeting feeling that they “couldn’t rely solely on the prime minister’s word,” the West Bank mayor said.

“These are thousands of residents who we need to be able to serve,” he continued, adding that he could not accept the plan’s required building freeze in areas earmarked for the Palestinian state surrounding those 15 settlements.

Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman told The Times of Israel Tuesday that Netanyahu had assured the settler leaders Palestinian statehood would not be included in the annexation proposal the premier plans to bring before the government for its approval.

But Ne’eman said that while he and his colleagues are fundamentally opposed to Palestinian statehood, they’re more concerned in the short term about the map currently being prepared and its ramifications on the ground.

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)

Netanyahu in response said that “in order to receive sovereignty, we have to give something in return,” according to another official at the meeting, 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.

That same official told The Times of Israel the premier had warned them that the White House “may have lessened its enthusiasm about seeing sovereignty carried out” and that the Trump administration “is not in the same place now as it was five months ago,” before the health, economic and race crises enveloped the US.

A well-placed source told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that the US is “highly unlikely” to approve Israeli annexation by the July 1 date that had been set by Netanyahu.

The source said that the US-Israeli mapping committee still has weeks, if not months, of work left and that one of its key members — the plan’s architect, Jared Kushner — still needs to make a trip to Israel in order for the sides to move forward.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the Wednesday remarks by the settlement mayor, instead referring to the statement it issued after the Tuesday meeting.

That statement said that Netanyahu had told the settler leaders they were on the cusp of “a historic opportunity to apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.”

“Netanyahu reiterated his commitment to negotiate on the basis of the Trump plan,” it added. “The Prime Minister said discussions with the Americans are still ongoing and the sides agreed to continue their dialogue. Prime Minister Netanyahu… called on the [mayors] to support this historic event.”

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