US mapping team for West Bank annexation said en route to Israel

US mapping team for West Bank annexation said en route to Israel

US officials, among them the ambassador to Israel, are set to meet with three Israeli counterparts to begin work on carrying out Trump peace plan

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)

The US members of a committee that will map out areas of the West Bank that Israel may annex as part of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan have set out for Israel, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.

The American members of the joint committee are US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, his adviser Aryeh Lightstone, and C. Scott Leith, senior adviser for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the National Security Council.

In Israel, they will join Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, acting director of the Prime Minister’s Office Ronen Peretz, and Likud Minister Yariv Levin.

Washington has said that Israel must hold off on annexing areas of the West Bank until the committee concludes its work, which could take weeks or months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and areas of the West Bank only with the agreement of Washington.

Many settler leaders, along with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, have been urging Netanyahu to immediately begin the process of extending sovereignty — tantamount to annexation — ever since Trump allowed for it in his peace plan, unveiled last month. But Washington has since made it clear it wants Jerusalem to wait and Netanyahu has backed off of promises to speedily take the step.

The Palestinians have rejected the US peace plan, which envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in about 70 percent of the West Bank, a small handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most of Gaza and some areas of southern Israel — if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, disarm Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave, and fulfill other conditions.

The plan also allows Israel to annex settlements, grants the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and overriding security control west of the Jordan River, and bars Palestinian refugees from settling in Israel. Israel has welcomed the proposal.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, at the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Earlier this month, Friedman appeared to warn the Israeli government against applying sovereignty over any parts of the West Bank before next week’s Knesset election, citing Trump’s mention of the bilateral mapping committee.

“I am not suggesting that the government of Israel should not do whatever it wants to do. Israel is a sovereign state. But people should know that if the president’s position is simply ignored then we’re not going to be in a position to go forward,” he said at a briefing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a hawkish think tank.

“There is no way that any president that preceded President Trump would recognize Israel’s annexation of anything at any time. So don’t suggest that we’re somehow being harsher than prior presidents,” he said. “The president got up and he made a speech. And he said there will be a committee and the committee will go through a process; the process will not last very long, but we want to go through a process.”

Friedman was referring to a statement Trump made during the festive January 28 unveiling of his peace plan at the White House. “We will form a joint committee with Israel to convert the conceptual map into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved,” the US president said at the time, standing next to Netanyahu.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin attends a conference on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

Friedman said: “We’re going to go through a mapping process to convert a map which is drawn of more than a million to one into something which really shows on the ground how the territory will be put together.

“It’s not unduly difficult, but it’s also not simple, because there are a lot of judgment calls. We don’t want to do this piecemeal,” he went on, adding that it would be “a mistake” to have Israel apply sovereignty over different areas of the West Bank incrementally, forcing the US to recognize numerous annexations.

“We want to do it once, holistically, in totality, and get it done right,” Friedman said. “We just want to get it done right. That’s not too much to ask. And that was the president’s message when he spoke about it the first time.”

Friedman also appeared to acknowledge publicly for the first time that Jerusalem received contradictory messages from the US administration regarding when exactly Israel would be allowed to annex.

“We might have had some differences of views as to timing, but in very short order it became clear that we were all on the same page,” Friedman said.

US President Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk while walking to the West Wing of the White House for a meeting, on March 25, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

Mere moments after the peace deal’s unveiling on January 28, Netanyahu told reporters that his cabinet would vote in favor of annexation the very next week. Friedman appeared to back that statement, telling reporters that “Israel does not have to wait at all” when asked whether there was a “waiting period” that would have to elapse before the country could extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and settlements.

A short while later, the president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, the peace plan’s chief author, apparently contradicted Friedman, making plain in a series of interviews that the White House expected Israel not to annex any areas before the work of the bilateral committee is completed.

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