No American decision on annexation as Friedman returns to Israel

“There is yet no final decision on next steps for implementing” US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

David Friedman (photo credit: REUTERS)
David Friedman
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman headed back from the White House without a final decision on Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank on Wednesday, days before July 1, the earliest date at which Israel’s governing coalition agreed the matter could go to a vote.
“There is yet no final decision on next steps for implementing” US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, a senior US administration official said.
Friedman met this week with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Special Adviser to the President Jared Kushner and others to determine whether and how Israel would extend its civil laws to parts of the West Bank in accordance with the Trump plan.
The source said the meetings were “productive,” and that Friedman is returning to Israel with Special Envoy Avi Berkowitz, as The Jerusalem Post reported first on Saturday, and Mapping Committee member Scott Leith “for further meetings and analysis.”
The White House has sought Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s backing for any move. One of the matters the US peace team still has to decide is how to proceed if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz cannot reach an agreement on the Trump plan.
Both have spoken positively of the “Vision for Peace.” However, Netanyahu seeks to have Israel extend sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank, including all settlements and the Jordan Valley, as the plan allows, while Gantz is thought to favor a smaller step, such as only applying Israeli civil law to Ma’aleh Adumim and the other major settlement blocs.
One of Gantz’s major concerns, which he has emphasized in his public comments on the matter, is that sovereignty in the Jordan Valley could imperil Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan.
Mossad director Yossi Cohen recently visited Jordan and met with King Abdullah to pass on a message from Netanyahu on the expected annexation of the West Bank and Jordan Valley, Channel 13 reported, citing a senior Israeli official.
The security cabinet held a meeting on Thursday to prepare for the possible responses to Israel extending its law to the West Bank.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said Palestinians may begin suicide bombings again, and there could be another operation in Gaza, while Cohen said he does not think the move will necessarily bring more violence, Channel 12 reported. Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Nadav Argaman reportedly took the middle ground.
Gantz’s Blue and White party plans to hold a three-hour faction meeting on Friday, consisting of a lecture by philosopher Mica Goodman to be followed by a brainstorming session for the party’s MKs.
Goodman’s 2017 book Catch 67 was meant to bridge the gap between left-wing and right-wing views on the peace process. He argued that both sides’ solutions have existential problems for Israel, and Israel should seek neither a comprehensive peace agreement nor annexation of the entire West Bank. Instead, the solution is to make interim agreements between pragmatic leaders on both sides of the conflict.
Among the interim arrangements he proposed is Palestinian autonomy and freedom of movement in the West Bank, while maintaining the Jordan Valley as Israel’s eastern border because of its strategic importance.
Another idea he proposed is maintaining Israeli control over the West Bank, decreasing confrontation between the Palestinians and the IDF and allowing the Palestinians a form of national expression.
Democrats in the US House of Representatives on Thursday released a letter to Netanyahu and Gantz to express “deep concern” with Israel’s intention to move ahead annexation.
“We urge your government to reconsider plans to do so,” the letter reads. An overwhelming majority of Democrat members, 189 out of 233, have signed the letter.
“Our fear is that unilateral actions, taken by either side, will push the parties further from negotiations and the possibility of a final, negotiated agreement,” the letter reads.
They also argued that annexation “would likely jeopardize Israel’s significant progress on normalization with Arab states at a time when closer cooperation can contribute to countering shared threats.”
All 15 MKs of the Arab Joint List sent a letter to Democratic Party representatives in the US Congress urging them to take a firm stand against Israel’s plans to annex portions of the West Bank.
MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash), who initiated the letter, said: “The annexation and the occupation are international issues. The US administration constantly intervenes in the region and gives backing to the oppression of Palestinians. The administration can give the green light or pull the brakes on annexation.
“Hence, we asked members of the Democratic Party, who might assume power soon, to express their clear objection to the annexation plans and to clarify that if it will take place, future administrations will not recognize its legitimacy and will denounce the entire Trump plan,” she said.
Right wing politicians and settler leaders continued to aggressively lobby against the Trump plan, with MK Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina), who also heads the National Union party, launching a new campaign comparing this period in Israel history with the lead-up to the 2005 Gaza withdrawal.
It will compare Netanyahu with former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who at the time was extremely popular right-wing leader who destroyed 25 settlements.
Right wing politicians and settler leaders fear that Trump’s plan will also lead to the destruction of at least 15 settlements and to the creation of a Palestinian state. They urged Netanyahu to immediately apply sovereignty without waiting for a green-light from the US.
“We are at a critical crossroad in which we can seize this historic opportunity for sovereignty or head down the same problematic path that will divide the nation and establish a terror state in the heart of the country,” Smotrich said.
MK Michal Shir (Likud), who heads the Land of Israel Caucus in the Knesset, visited Hebron and the Gush Etzion, where she met with Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman.
“My voice is your voice,” said Shir as she promised to personally speak with Netanyahu about the need to make changes to the sovereignty map.
A plan that “strangles” Jewish communities is not about the application of sovereignty, but rather is direct link to the Oslo Accords from the 1990s, she said.
Yesha Council head David Elhayani said, “I call on US President Donald Trump, who through his important actions on behalf of the State of Israel in recent years has provide to be a true friend, to support a sovereignty process that would be good for Israel.”
In Jerusalem the Left-wing NGOs Rabbis for Human Rights and Oz VeShalom held a small demonstration against the Trump plan and or any sovereignty plan.
Rabbis for Human Rights executive director Avi Dabush said, that was needed now was a negotiation and reconciliation process, not unilateral moves the jeopardize peace in the region.
“We have come together in prayer out of the belief” that the Jewish voice of peace must be heard at this time. Rabbis for Human Rights also sent a petition to Netanyahu with 140 signatures urging him to refrain from annexation.

Tamar Be’eri and Alex Winston contributed to this report.