Settler leader doubles down, says Trump is not Israel's friend

Netanyahu issues strong condemnation of settler leadership’s approach to annexation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Mevo'ot Yericho in the Jordan Valley (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Mevo'ot Yericho in the Jordan Valley
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani refused to apologize on Thursday for saying US President Donald Trump is “not a friend of Israel,” even though in doing so, he ruffled feathers from Jerusalem to Washington.
Elhayani held his ground against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many leading settlers and right-wing politicians who publicly took him to task for his statement.
“Look, there is no question that Trump has done wonderful things for Israel,” Elhayani told Army Radio. Trump has taken many unprecedented steps to support Israel, but that does not mean he can always be considered a friend, he said.
Trump’s “Deal of the Century” was not designed by a friendly hand, Elhayani said.
“If you have a friend who is helpful, but in the end brings forward a plan that will endanger the existence of the State of Israel, then we have an obligation to open his eyes and to say that in this instance, you are not my friend,” he said.
Late Wednesday night, Netanyahu “strongly condemned” Elhayani’s words in a statement to Haaretz, in which he affirmed that Trump was a “great friend” of Israel who had taken historic action on Israel’s behalf by relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“It is unfortunate that instead of expressing gratitude, there are those who deny this friendship, which is unparalleled,” he said.
Trump’s peace plan, unveiled in January, lets Israel apply sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank, but it also allows for the creation of a Palestinian state in 70% of that region.
Elhayani, who is also the Jordan Valley Regional Council head, has issues with Trump’s sovereignty map, but it is the Palestinian statehood portion of the plan that most concerns him.
With this plan, the US for the first time has set a clear border for a Palestinian state, he said.
Elhayani is so concerned that he is willing to give up sovereignty with US support if it is coupled with Palestinian statehood.
“This is a partition plan and a plan for the evacuation” of at least 15 settlements, he said.
“The US is saying the moment sovereignty is applied, you [Israel] have set the borders of the Palestinian state,” he added. “From here on in, you have no say. These will be the Palestinian borders for eternity.”
Elhayani told Army Radio he was taking this stand not out of deep religious conviction, but rather from his cold and clinical understanding of the dangers facing the state of Israel.
“Here is the head of the Yesha Council, one who is secular, not religious, not messianic, and who is telling you... there is a danger here,” he said.
Elhayani said he has the most to lose in opposing the plan, which uniquely offers the Jordan Valley region contiguous territory, while all the other regions have only noncontiguous options. None of the Jordan Valley settlements, for example, will be in isolated enclaves.
He should have been the first person to thank Trump, but his sense of obligation to his residents and to the State of Israel has pushed him to take this stand, he said.
“I am willing to give up on the sovereignty in the Jordan Valley if that would ensure that there would not be a Palestinian state,” Elhayani said.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin called for Elhayani to resign and accused him of making rude and irresponsible remarks about Trump that should be condemned and criticized.
Elhayani in turn told Levin to “shed his snakeskin, to take into account the Likud voters and to take responsibility for drawing up the evacuation map and that would establish a Palestinian state.”
Meanwhile, due to the coronavirus crisis, the police tried to cancel a rally against annexation that was set for Saturday night in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.
Joint List head Ayman Odeh complained that other rallies were not shut down.
“The coronavirus is dangerous, but the right to protest cannot be taken away,” he said. “We will hold the rally, no matter what the police and the right-wing government say.”
Meretz faction chair Tamar Zandberg said: “Annexation would bring disaster, and we cannot be prevented from coming to scream about it.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi continued on his campaign against annexation. He tweeted that he had told a conference about ISIS: “Terrorism thrives in crises [and] preys on hopelessness. To defeat it we must solve regional crises; we must prevent Israeli annexation of Palestinian land [and] the fiercer conflict it’ll cause, [and] focus on getting parties to the negotiating table.”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.