US urges Israel, Palestinians to refrain from unilateral steps

Following PM's remarks on annexing parts of West Bank, State Department says sides should not take "steps that undermine trust," as US wants talks to resume.

The United States on Friday called on Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations and to refrain from unilateral steps following a statement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that support was growing for unilateral steps.
“We don’t think either side should do anything to complicate efforts right now to build the trust necessary to resume negotiations,” US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington on Friday. “No one should take any steps that undermine trust, including unilateral actions.”
But Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett said on Friday and again on Saturday that this was exactly the moment for Israel to move unilaterally.
He reissued his call for Israel to annex Area C of the West Bank. In a message on his Facebook page Bennett said, “We are pushing to unilaterally apply Israeli law to Gush Etzion, Ariel, the Jordan Valley, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ofra, Alfei Menashe, the settlements around Ben-Gurion Airport, Samaria, Judea and all Jewish settlements.”
He added that “I will continue to push with all my might for this to happen, and it will happen. The age of negotiation has ended. They [the Palestinians] have acted unilaterally.
Now its our turn. The time has come to initiate and to do what is best for Israel.”
Bennett has long believed that Israel needs a day-after plan. He has warned that Israel must be prepared for that moment when it becomes clear that a negotiated two-state solution is not possible at this time.
Last week Bennett published an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, in which he explained that the bulk of Palestinians live in Areas A and B of the West Bank, which is already under the civic control of the Palestinian Authority.
He has offered to give the 70,000 Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank full Israeli citizenship and to help the Palestinian economy thrive. The United Nations has estimated that there are 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded to Bennett’s plan on Tuesday and said that “Our position is clear. Final-status issues including borders can only be resolved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and obviously we believe that’s the proper place for addressing them.”
He is not the only right-wing politician with an annexation plan. Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, believes Israel should gradually annex portions of Area C. Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud) wants to expand the borders of Jerusalem to annex the settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev and the Gush Etzion area.
On Saturday, Labor Party head Isaac Herzog objected to all those plans.
“The extreme Right has exploited Netanyahu’s leadership vacuum and has thrown dangerous ideas of annexation into the ring,” Herzog said.
This idea will turn Israel into a binational state, where Jews will be a minority. It also endangers Israel’s standing in the international arena, he said. “Those who believe in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state should do everything they can to prevent these ideas from entering the political dialogue.”
The only solution is a diplomatic agreement that would keep the settlement blocs in Israeli hands and set the country’s permanent borders, he said.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday night rejected Bennett’s plan as “the end of Zionism.”
Bennett on Saturday night said in response: “Every day I hear from the Left another new horror scenario.
There is only one thing that I am not hearing from the Left: an alternative.”