Friedman: Annexation without US committee endangers recognition

Tweets about waiting for committee come as Netanyahu faces anger for delaying sovereignty in West Bank until after election.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman
Washington may not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the settlements if Israel unilaterally moves to annex parts of the West Bank without waiting to work with the US on a comprehensive map, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman warned on Sunday.
“The application of Israeli law to the territory which the [US peace] Plan provides to be part of Israel is subject to the completion [of] a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee,” Friedman wrote on Twitter. “Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the plan and American recognition.”
Friedman’s comments come as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces political pressure and anger on the Israeli Right because he backtracked from a promise to annex settlements in the West Bank immediately, saying twice in the last week that annexation would only happen after the March 2 election.
The US ambassador expanded upon his comments during at event at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in which he clarified that the Trump administration does not obviously control the Israeli government.
“The US cannot prevent Israel from doing anything. Israel is a sovereign nation, and Israel can do what it wants to do, and we have no control over Israel and its sovereign actions,” Friedman said.
He clarified that an understanding exists between Israel and the US by which Israeli sovereignty can be applied only after completion of the work of a six-member Israeli-US committee. Three of its members are Netanyahu appointees, and three are US President Donald Trump appointees, Friedman said, adding that he was one of the committee members.
Netanyahu has in the past sought and been denied US approval for two-step sovereignty process by which Israel would first annex an area such as the Jordan Valley and then apply full sovereignty at a later date. Washington does not want to get repeated international flak over annexation and wants Israel to prepare a full plan to apply sovereignty in a single step.
Washington, via Friedman, sought to relay a message to those pressuring Netanyahu and the government to act immediately that they are not helping the cause of annexation.
On Sunday, Friedman urged Israeli sovereignty supporters to be patient. “A little bit of patience to go through a process and to do it right is not too much to ask for,” he said.
He clarified that his words against annexation without US support were meant to explain the Trump administration’s position in light of news that the Israeli “cabinet was to be pushed in the direction that was potentially adverse to our view of the process,” Friedman said, adding that he wanted to “let people know where we stand” and did not intend for his words to be constituted as a threat.
At the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu told the ministers he had agreed to the US condition that the sovereignty committee’s work be completed before the issue is brought to a cabinet vote.
“The Americans are saying very clearly: ‘We want to give you the recognition, and we will give it to you when the entire process has been completed.’ This recognition is the main point,” Netanyahu said. “We do not want to endanger this. We are working responsibly and sagaciously.”
“The main thing… is American recognition of our sovereignty and of the application of the law to the territories that the plan designates as being part of Israel,” he said.
“This requires precise mapping of these territories, the entire territory. It has a perimeter of 800 km.… The Israeli team has begun work. The train is under way, and this work will be completed. The US and we have agreed that when the entire process will have been completed, we will bring it to the cabinet,” Netanyahu said.
He also chastised those politicians “tweeting from outside and even from within the government.”
Netanyahu reiterated the message that promise of US recognition of Israeli sovereignty of the settlements was enough of a historic achievement for the moment at his faction meeting at the Knesset and during two campaign rallies at night.
But settler leaders and Yamina ministers were not persuaded by his words.
The Yesha Council held a meeting on Sunday night to weigh whether to apply increased political pressure to push Netanyahu to approve sovereignty immediately.
“With all due respect, our prime minister is Benjamin Netanyahu and not David Friedman,” Samaria Region Council head Yossi Dagan said. “There is no reason to delay [sovereignty] until after the election,” he added.
The Trump administration must be told that “Israel is a sovereign state, and our sovereignty will be applied to Judea and Samaria as the Israeli public expects,” Dagan said.
“Apply sovereignty at the earliest possible opportunity before the elections. You have public and political support to do so,” Yesha Council head and Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani said.
Efrat Council head and Yesha foreign envoy Oded Revivi, however, urged respected for the US request on delayed sovereignty.
“The plan was always intended to realign peace discussions from failed previous approaches to ones that are based on the realities on the ground,” he said, “and as a starting point for addressing some of the details that require the expertise of those who were not involved in drafting the Prosperity to Peace plan. It is in Israel’s interest to do this properly.”
Netanyahu said Israel has begun the process of mapping out the territory for Israel to annex. Prime Minister’s Office director-general Ronen Peretz will head the Israeli side of the committee, a source in the office said.
Earlier this month, Trump presented his peace plan, by which the US will approve the Israeli annexation of some 30% of the West Bank, including all settlements and the Jordan Valley, as well as not expanding construction beyond that area, while being ready to recognize a Palestinian state in the rest of the West Bank.
That state would be demilitarized, could no longer pay terrorists a monthly salary and would have to be democratic and provide its citizens with basic civil rights, according to the Trump plan.
Zachary Keyser contributed to this report.