A top settler leader said Wednesday that US President Donald Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner have shown through their peace proposal that “they are not friends of the State of Israel.”
David Elhayani, who chairs the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors, made the remark in an interview with the Haaretz daily, during which he was asked to respond to recent reports that American officials had passed along a message to settler leaders that their ongoing campaign against the Trump plan showed a great deal of “ingratitude” and placed efforts to the advance annexation of their towns at risk.
Elhayani said that the president and Kushner, his son-in-law, “do not have Israel’s security and settlement interests in mind” and that “the only thing they’re concerned about regarding the plan is promoting their own interests ahead of the upcoming election.”
The statement represented a further intensification of the rhetoric coming from settler leaders against the Trump and Netanyahu governments in their effort to advance the US peace plan.
Elhayani could not be reached to elaborate on his comments, but Har Hebron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damri, who similarly opposes the Trump plan, told The Times of Israel that he vehemently disagreed with the Yesha Council chairman.
“Trump is a friend of Israel, and I wrote as much today in my column in the Maariv newspaper where I thanked President Trump for all he’s done for Israel and for the wonderful friendship he has with the prime minister,” Damri said. “It’s legitimate that he has a different perspective than us, but to say that he’s not a friend of Israel? I completely disagree with that.”
Responding to Elhayani’s remarks, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett — who has also spoken out against the plan’s envisioning of Palestinian statehood — issued a statement saying “President Trump is a huge friend of the State of Israel, and we’re all grateful for his support in fighting Iranian aggression, moving the embassy, recognizing the Golan Heights and much more.”
Elhayani is known for his blunt rhetoric. One prominent settler leader has accused the Yesha chairman of scuttling US plans to immediately recognize Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank in January by issuing a statement blasting the plan hours before its unveiling.
Separately Wednesday, another prominent settler leader told The Times of Israel 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 the map a joint US-Israeli committee is 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 by the settler leaders came a day 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 — specifically 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 Trump 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 on 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 as well as in the broader right-wing camp.
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.
The settler leaders are 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 plan’s January unveiling, which depicted 15 isolated settlements as enclaves surrounded by land earmarked for the future Palestinian state.
Separately Tuesday, a well-placed source told The Times of Israel 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 — as well as the plan’s architect, Kushner — still needs to make a trip to Israel in order for the sides to move forward.