US envoy Greenblatt backs Friedman on Israel’s right to retain part of West Bank
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US envoy Greenblatt backs Friedman on Israel’s right to retain part of West Bank

White House could delay rolling out long-awaited peace plan until November, due to political turmoil in Israel, says special envoy

L-R: US President Donald Trump's envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 12, 2017. (Haim Tzach/GPO/File)
L-R: US President Donald Trump's envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 12, 2017. (Haim Tzach/GPO/File)

US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt on Sunday backed comments by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, in support of Israel retaining some parts of the West Bank.

Greenblatt participated in the annual Jerusalem Post conference in New York, where he was asked about comments made by Friedman published by the New York Times last weekend.

“I will let David’s comments stand for themselves,” said Greenblatt. “I think he said them elegantly and I support his comments.”

In an interview published by the New York Times last Saturday, Friedman suggested that some degree of annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate.

“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” Friedman said.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

An anonymous American official later said Israel has not presented a plan for annexation of any of the West Bank, and no such plan is under discussion with the US.

Greenblatt spoke days before the US is set to lay out an economic component of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan on June 25 and 26 in Bahrain, where Gulf Arab states are expected to make pledges to boost the troubled Palestinian economy.

But it is not clear when the political aspects of the plan — which is expected to avoid calling for the creation of a Palestinian state — will be unveiled.

At the conference Sunday, Greenblatt also signaled that the White House might delay the full publication of its long-awaited peace plan until November, due to political turmoil in Israel, though he said no final decision had been made.

He said that the Trump administration would have published a blueprint for its peace plan this summer if Israel had not dissolved its parliament last month and declared another election — the second in a year — for September 2019.

“The new elections have thrown us off,” Greenblatt said.

Trump’s own reelection campaign for US president “should not be an obstacle,” he added.

In his remarks, Greenblatt acknowledged that there were limits to Arab concessions to the Jewish state.

Jared Kushner alongside a member of the Saudi delegation at a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, March 20, 2018. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images via JTA)

“There is a limit how far the Arabs will go with Israel; they don’t want to sell out the Palestinians,” he said. “We are not going to push any country to go further than they are comfortable.”

However, he warned that “failure will put this in the box for a long time.” Such a development would be “a tragedy for the Palestinian people.”

Greenblatt also stressed that Washington is not seeking to oust the current Palestinian Authority leadership, which has already said it will reject the peace plan, but rather is hoping that the Palestinian people will be able to decide for themselves if they want to accept the peace deal or not.

“We are not looking for regime change in PA,” he said, before adding that “there is no question” the Palestinian people have the right to see what the plan offers before they decide.

During campaigning for the general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to gradually annex West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long supported by nearly all lawmakers, in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties, and said he hoped to do so with US support.

Friedman, in the New York Times interview, declined to specify how the US might respond to unilateral Israeli annexation, saying: “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves… These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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