US envoy says Israel has ‘right’ to annex parts of West Bank

David Friedman tells NY Times the Trump peace plan is aimed at improving Palestinians’ quality of life, not offer a permanent solution

By AFP and TOI STAFF Today, 3:27 pm

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

The US ambassador to Israel said he believes the Jewish state has the right to annex at least “some” of the West Bank, in comments likely to deepen Palestinian opposition to a long-awaited US peace plan.

In an interview published by the New York Times on Saturday, Ambassador David Friedman said that some degree of annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate.

“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” he said.

The US is set to lay out an economic component of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan on June 25 and 26 in Bahrain, where Gulf Arab states are expected to make pledges to boost the troubled Palestinian economy.

Palestinians walk towards the Qalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem to attend the first Friday prayers in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Friday, May 10, 2019.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

But it is not clear when the political aspects of the plan — which are expected to avoid calling for the creation of a Palestinian state — will be unveiled.

Abandoning the call for a Palestinian state would end years of US support for the so-called two-state solution, which envisages an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The Palestinians have already dismissed the Trump peace plan and said they will not attend the Bahrain summit, rejecting it as heavily biased in favor of Israel.

Friedman’s comments on Israeli annexation are likely to be viewed by Palestinians as the last nail in the coffin of a peace process that is already on life support.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat has said any Israeli annexation policy would be tantamount to “US complicity with Israeli colonial plans.”

‘Failed state helps nobody’

The public comments made by administration officials so far suggest the US plan will lean heavily on substantial financial support for the Palestinian economy, much of it funded by the Gulf Arab states, in return for concessions on territory and statehood.

“The absolute last thing the world needs is a failed Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan,” Friedman said in the Times interview.

“Maybe they won’t take it, maybe it doesn’t meet their minimums.

“We’re relying upon the fact that the right plan, for the right time, will get the right reaction over time.”

Friedman, a staunch supporter of the Israeli settlements, told the Times that the Trump plan was aimed at improving the quality of life for Palestinians but would fall well short of a “permanent resolution to the conflict.”

He said he did not believe the plan would trigger Palestinian violence.

US President Donald Trump, left, turns to give a pen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, at the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019 after signing the official proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.. From left, Jared Kushner, US special envoy Jason Greenblatt, US Ambassador David Friedman, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP/Susan Walsh)

But he said the United States would coordinate closely with Arab ally Jordan, which could face unrest among its large Palestinian population over a plan perceived as overly favorable to Israel.

Publication of the plan looks set to be further delayed after the Knesset called a snap general election for September, the second this year.

The plan is regarded as too sensitive to release during the campaign.

During campaigning for the first general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long supported by nearly all lawmakers in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties.

Earlier, in February, Netanyahu told lawmakers he had been discussing with Washington a plan that would effectively annex settlements.

In a rare public show of disunity between the close allies, the White House then flatly denied any such discussion.

In this May 18, 2018 file photo, White House adviser Jared Kushner speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Meanwhile, Trump administration officials have been dampening expectations about the peace plan rollout. Senior White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in an interview broadcast Sunday expressed doubts about the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves without Israeli involvement. “The hope is that over time, they can become capable of governing,” he told the Axios news site.

On Monday, the Washington Post published leaked remarks made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told US Jewish leaders in a closed-door conversation that the plan might not “gain traction.”

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