Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced on Sunday to backtrack on plans for a rapid annexation of occupied West Bank land after an unprecedented warning from the US that he was moving too quickly.
Under pressure from far-right extreme nationalists in his coalition government, Netanyahu had pledged quick “application of Israeli law” to illegal Jewish settlements, and to the Jordan Valley.
The prime minister had been given the green light to act by US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, unveiled on Jan. 28, which proposes that Israel retain vast areas of occupied land required by the Palestinians for an independent state.
But David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel and a key supporter of the Trump plan, warned on Sunday: “Israel is subject to the completion (of) a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee. Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the plan, and American recognition.
“With the news out that the Israeli Cabinet was about to be pushed in a direction that was potentially adverse to our view of the process, we just let people know where we stand.”
Palestinian leaders told Arab News that Netanyahu had no option but to do what Washington told him. “There is no doubt that in such a disagreement Trump is the powerful side in the equation, and if Trump and Netanyahu disagree, the opinions of the Americans will prevail,” said Nabil Shaath, senior political adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The US had interests in the region other than Israel, Shaath said. “For many in the Arab and Muslim worlds, Jerusalem and Arab occupied lands do have a role in the way Washington thinks.”
However, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Arab News that Friedman had been “historically involved in the funding and support of illegal colonial settlements, and is one of the master brains behind this annexation plan.
“He is basically saying, ‘Annexation, a crime of aggression under the Rome statute, is fine as long as you do it with me, not alone.’ Their endgame is the same — to normalize Israel’s apartheid in Palestine.”