US still working to bring Palestinians to the table on peace plan, diplomat says

Amid Israel’s annexation push, envoy to UN Kelly Craft says Trump proposal ‘not set in stone,’ but ‘until we have dialogue, there’s going to be nothing’

US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft delivers a statement to the press after a Security Council meeting on October 16, 2019 in New York City (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft delivers a statement to the press after a Security Council meeting on October 16, 2019 in New York City (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

The US is continuing to make efforts to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table on the Trump administration’s contentious peace plan, a top American diplomat said Friday, as Israel seeks to unilaterally carry out a single aspect of the proposal — the annexation of some 30 percent of West Bank land — as early as next month.

Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said at a press briefing that the Trump plan is “not set in stone” and said the administration has been working to bring Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table to discuss it.

Craft said US officials have “been working very closely to make certain that both Israel and the Palestinians… that both sides understand that this [plan] is very detailed, it’s very realistic, it’s very implementable, and it meets the core requirements for both Israel and the Palestinian people.

“Until we have dialogue, there’s going to be nothing,” she said. “So I’m really stressing… we have — you have — to get to the table.”

The plan would see all Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley area allocated to Israel while providing an eventual Palestinian state in some 70% of the West Bank.

It offers the Palestinians a capital in Arab neighborhoods and partial neighborhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem that lie on the far side of Israel’s West Bank security barrier.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks to the UN Security Council at the United Nations headquarters on February 11, 2020 in New York. (Johannes EISELE / AFP)

It imposes a four-year settlement freeze in areas allocated for that future Palestinian state to allow the PA time to consider coming to the table. That state would be condition on various requirements, including demilitarization, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and ongoing Israeli overall security control in the West Bank.

US officials have said previously that the plan is a blueprint rather than a final document, but Palestinians have rejected the proposal outright, seeing it as heavily biased toward Israel, and have refused to discuss it.

The PA has boycotted the US administration since President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US embassy there in late 2017. Washington has retaliated by halting virtually all aid to the Palestinians

Meanwhile, though Jerusalem has been unenthusiastic about provisions relating to a Palestinian state, it has moved toward quickly implementing aspects of extending its rule to include the West Bank and Jordan Valley — with US backing.

In recent months an Israeli-American mapping committee has been working to delineate the contours of the annexation bid, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing repeatedly to move forward with the plan.

Netanyahu’s coalition deal with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party allows him to bring the matter to a vote in the Knesset — where he is almost assured of a majority — starting on July 1, provided he has American support.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

But Washington has recently indicated it is unlikely to quickly approve the move.

A a well-placed source told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that the administration is highly unlikely to approve an Israeli annexation move by July 1. In fact, it could take weeks and possibly months before the mapping committee concludes its work, the source said.

In a meeting with settler leaders Tuesday, Netanyahu indicated that the Trump administration was toughening its stance on annexation, and signaled that any such effort might be delayed, according to a settler official who took part in the meeting.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel that the premier also told the West Bank mayors that the United States “may have lessened its enthusiasm about seeing sovereignty carried out.”

Settler leaders have in recent days vocally opposed any annexation plan that would see Israel agreeing to the formation of a Palestinian state.

On Friday Jerusalem and Heritage Minister Rafi Peretz said he would oppose parts of the administration’s plan relating to a Palestinian state. A day earlier a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, said that the Israeli government has not fully adopted the plan, indicating that Jerusalem could be planning to accept only the parts that favor Israel.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive for an event in the East Room of the White House at which Trump presented his Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Last month, the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, indicated that American backing for Israeli annexation in the West Bank was contingent on Israel working within the framework of the Trump plan.

Some politicians and top settler leaders have publicly come out against the US plan in recent days, led by Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani, who told the Haaretz daily on Wednesday that Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner have shown through their peace proposal that “they are not friends of the State of Israel.”

While he conceded there was no doubt that Trump has “done wonderful things for Israel,” such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and acting against the Iranians, the establishment of a Palestinian state is unacceptable, Elhayani said.

Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman David Elhayani. (Hadas Forush/Flash90)

Elhayani warned that as soon as Israel extended sovereignty to some areas it would effectively be recognizing the borders of a future Palestinian state, and that Washington intended to build on that development to implement the rest of the peace plan.

Elhayani, who chairs the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors, rebuffed accusations that he was being ungrateful to Washington as it offers to recognize Israeli sovereignty, telling the station he was concerned not just for the safety of settlements in the Jordan Valley and other areas of the West Bank, but for the safety of all of Israel’s citizens.

His comments prompted some other settler leaders to call for his resignation, Channel 13 reported.

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