TEL AVIV – U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Sunday expressed his opposition to any “unilateral” decision by Israel to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank, saying such a move would endanger the recently unveiled peace plan.
“President Trump’s Vision for Peace is the product of more than three years of close consultations among the President, PM Netanyahu and their respective senior staff,” he tweeted.
“As we have stated, the application of Israeli law to the territory which the Plan provides to be part of Israel is subject to the completion a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee,” he added. “Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the Plan & American recognition.”
President Trump’s Vision for Peace is the product of more than three years of close consultations among the President, PM Netanyahu and their respective senior staff. As we have stated, the application of Israeli law to the territory which the Plan provides to be part of
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) February 9, 2020
The U.S. envoy later reiterated the importance of allowing a committee to go through a “process” first.
“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 during a briefing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs 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.”
Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner last week said the United States would not support an annexation before the Israeli elections on March 2.
On Thursday, he added that annexation would only happen once a joint U.S.-Israeli commission would work on detailed mapping of the areas in question, which would take “a couple of months” to complete.
The purpose of the commission, he said, was to turn the peace plan’s “conceptual map” into a detailed map that ensures “you can have contiguous territory” for a Palestinian state.
In his remarks at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel had already begun mapping.
“In Washington, during my latest visit, we made history. We brought an American plan according to which Israel will recognize our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea, all the [Jewish] communities in Judea and Samaria without exception — big or little — and large territories surrounding them,” he said using the biblical name for the West Bank.
“This requires precise mapping of these areas, the entire territory,” Netanyahu continued. “The work has begun, the Israeli team has already started, the train set out and this work will be completed.”
“The U.S. and we agreed that when this entire process is completed we’ll bring it to the government [for approval]. But the Americans are saying in the clearest manner: ‘We want to give you recognition and we’ll give you it when the entire process is complete,’” he said.
“Recognition is the main thing. We brought this, I brought this,” the premier added. “We don’t want to endanger this, we are working responsibility and intelligently.”
A day earlier, Netanyahu said it would “not take a lot of time” to complete mapping the territory.
While some settler leaders reacted harshly to Friedman’s remarks, others agreed that unilateral annexation was the wrong move.
“The United States cannot prevent Israel from doing anything,” David Elhayani, who also serves as the chairman of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, said in remarks translated by The Times of Israel.
He “called on the prime minister to fulfill his commitment to the residents of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley to apply sovereignty before the elections and to do this as soon as possible.”
Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, however, said it was “wrong” to annex now, and called Friedman’s statement a “wake-up call for all of us.” He called on fellow settler leaders to cooperate with the government on the matter.
“Ambassador Friedman, in the name of the US administration, is presenting a rare opportunity to sit down with the Americans and hold discussions through an elected government to determine Israel’s future borders,” Revivi said.