US ambassador denies White House is holding up release of peace plan

US ambassador denies White House is holding up release of peace plan

Proposal will be presented when administration has ‘maximized its potential for acceptance, execution and implementation,’ David Friedman says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Jerusalem on August 22, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Jerusalem on August 22, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman denied on Monday that the administration is considering postponing the publication of its much-awaited peace proposal, saying that the plan will be released whenever it has the best chance of success.

“I would like to reaffirm that the United States remains committed to sharing its vision for peace with Israel, the Palestinians and other regional and international stakeholders at the appropriate time,” he said in a rare written statement posted to the website of the US Embassy.

Friedman confirmed a report last week about a top-level meeting to discuss the content and timing of the peace plan. Besides Friedman, the meeting was attended by US President Donald Trump, senior adviser Jared Kushner, chief peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

The meeting was “very productive,” Friedman said, noting that participants “discussed the president’s vision for comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” but not offering further details.

He did lament, however, that media reports of the meeting “have been wildly inaccurate.”

The peace plan will be released when the administration thinks it has “maximized its potential for acceptance, execution and implementation,” the ambassador went on. “Our timing, our strategy and our messaging is — and will be — entirely our own.

“Moreover, Mr. Kushner, Mr. Greenblatt and I are of one mind in terms of how best to proceed,” he continued. “Those anonymous ‘experts’ who purport to speak for the administration on this issue are ill-informed and mistaken.”

On November 18, Channel 10 News first reported on the meeting, citing US officials as saying that Trump wants to see the plan rolled out by February, but that his advisers favor taking a more cautious approach, in light of the political crisis engulfing Israel.

The potential collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would be a key factor in determining when the US proposal should be unveiled, the officials told the news channel.

Friedman and other officials were said to be warning against releasing the proposal during an Israeli election campaign, in order to prevent the vote from becoming a referendum on the US plan.

Although the Trump administration has been touting its peace plan for months, details of it have been scant, and the Palestinians have vowed not to cooperate with US efforts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt (2nd from left), on June 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The report came as Netanyahu’s government appeared on the brink of collapse, with many analysts thinking that the next Knesset elections would be held in the spring, months before their scheduled date of November 2019.

The coalition crisis was sparked by the resignation of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister, in response to the cease-fire deal that ended a military flareup between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

But early elections were averted, as Netanyahu assumed the position of defense minister and Jewish Home party chief Naftali Bennett withdrew his ultimatum to bring down the coalition if he was not given that portfolio.

The Channel 10 report said Netanyahu’s camp was planning to reach out to the White House in an effort to push back the publication of the proposal until after the elections.

Hadashot TV news reported that Kushner has privately indicated in the past that the plan’s release might be postponed if Israel was embroiled in an election campaign.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right), Education Minister Naftali Bennett (2nd from left) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (3rd from left) attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on November 18, 2018. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

Netanyahu’s office told the network, in response to the report, that the prime minister’s sole concern vis-à-vis the US peace plan is Israel’s security.

“The prime minister doesn’t know when the American plan will be presented. And when it is, the only factor he will take into consideration is the national interest, first and foremost the security of Israel,” his office said.

Trump has yet to reveal a date for the announcement of his peace plan, but said during a meeting with Netanyahu in September he hoped to release it by early next year.

In addition to the increasing political uncertainty in Israel, the White House must also factor in how the peace plan will be received by the Palestinian Authority, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, has boycotted the Trump administration since its recognition last December of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and who has vowed to oppose the “deal of the century.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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