US envoy tells Jewish leaders a Palestinian state won’t happen in near future
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US envoy tells Jewish leaders a Palestinian state won’t happen in near future

In closed-door briefing, David Friedman says it will take ‘considerable amount of time’ for the Palestinians to achieve statehood under terms of Trump peace plan

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the Kohelet Forum Conference at the Begin Heritage Center, in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the Kohelet Forum Conference at the Begin Heritage Center, in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told a gathering of American Jewish and Christian Evangelical leaders that it would take a long time for a Palestinian state to emerge under the White House’s Middle East peace plan, according to sources in the room.

Shortly after US President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited proposal Tuesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by his side, Friedman met with a group of more than 20 Jewish and Evangelical leaders for an off-the-record briefing.

One of the points he made: while the Trump plan ostensibly calls for a two-state solution, the administration doesn’t expect the establishment of a Palestinian state in the near future.

“Ambassador Friedman said it will still take a considerable amount of time for the Palestinians to build the institutions they need to have a state that’s fully functioning and that’s part of why they have this four-year timeline in the plan,” said a US Jewish official who was in the meeting.

The Trump team’s 50-page plan, released this week, provides for an eventual Palestinian state in much of the West Bank, minus the Jordan Valley and a network of enclaves carved out to include all of Israel’s settlements and slivers of land connecting them.

It imposes a four-year settlement freeze in areas allocated for a future Palestinian state, predicated on conditions long demanded by Netanyahu, including demilitarization, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and ongoing Israeli overall security control in the West Bank.

But it also allows Jerusalem to extend Israeli law to all the existing settlements, which is tantamount to annexation.

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the East Room of the White House on January 28, 2020 in Washington. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/AFP)

Netanyahu, for his part, told reporters shortly after the White House press conference that he will bring the annexation of the Jordan Valley and all West Bank settlements for a vote in Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

Israeli right-wing politicians, including Yamina’s Naftali Bennett and Ayalet Shaked, and settler leaders reacted to the Trump announcement by calling for the annexation of the settlements and Jordan Valley areas as soon as possible.

The Palestinian leadership, which has cut off ties with the Trump administration since it announced it would move the US embassy to Jerusalem, has already rejected the deal.

Friedman told reporters Tuesday that Israel would be free to annex the West Bank settlements immediately, but then backtracked Wednesday, saying a US-Israeli committee would have to approve the parameters of any such moves.

The meeting with Jewish and evangelical leaders included representatives from several major Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Federations of North America, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Orthodox Union, and some far-right Jewish groups like the Zionist Organization of North America.

President Donald Trump is greeted by Pastor Robert Jeffress at the Celebrate Freedom Rally at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, July 1, 2017. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/ Getty Images via JTA)

Evangelical Christian leaders who were there included Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council; Johnnie Moore, the founder of Kairos; Faith and Freedom Coalition chief Ralph Reed and Pastor Robert Jeffress.

Most of the session was spent explaining the plan, sources said.

“He walked through some more of the details of the plan,” one official said. “He explained to us that the president’s statement about a potential Palestinian capital in Eastern Jerusalem in the part of Jerusalem that’s east of the security barrier, for example. He walked through a number of the other elements of the plan in some more detail than the president or the prime minister spoke about at a public session.”

Trump confused some Tuesday by saying the plan would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital,” while later saying the plan offered a Palestinian capital in Eastern Jerusalem.

The source said that most people in the room were receptive of the proposal. “I think the general sense of it was appreciating the hard work and thought that went into producing the plan,” the official said. “A lot of details yet to be studied and understood.”

Breaking with past US administrations, the plan envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in part of the West Bank, a handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and some areas of southern Israel — on condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip disarm.

The plan also calls for allowing Israel to annex settlements, granting the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, as well as ongoing overall security control west of the Jordan River, and barring Palestinians from entering Israel as refugees.

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