The US ambassador has said Israel has the right to annex at least “some” of the occupied West Bank, in comments likely to deepen Palestinian opposition to a long-awaited US peace plan.
The Palestinians have rejected the peace plan before it has even been unveiled, citing a string of moves by US President Donald Trump that they say show his administration is irredeemably biased.
The Palestinians are likely to see the recent comments by the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, as a new nail in the coffin of a peace process that is already on life support.
In an interview published by the New York Times on Saturday, Friedman said 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.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said any such policy would be tantamount to “US complicity with Israeli colonial plans”.
Responding to the US envoy’s remarks, Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) executive member Hanan Ashrawi said the US was justifying land theft, Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim reported from Ramallah.
“We’ve also heard from a statement by Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank, which said that they don’t know if the US ambassador is representing the view of Israeli settlers or that of the US administration,” Ibrahim said.
No firm date has yet been set for the unveiling of the Trump administration’s plan, although aconferenceis to be held in Bahrain later this month on its economic aspects.
Failed state helps nobody
The public comments made by administration officials so far suggest the plan will lean heavily on substantial financial support for the Palestinian economy, much of it funded by 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 NYT 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,” he said.
Friedman, a staunch supporter of the Israeli settlements, told the NYT 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.
But he said the US would coordinate closely with Arab ally Jordan, which could face unrest among its large Palestinian population over a plan perceived as overly favourable to Israel.
Publication of the plan looks set to be further delayed after the Israeli parliament called a snap general election for September, the second this year. The plan is regarded as too sensitive to release during the campaign.
Recently Palestinians have been boycotting the US-led economic summit set to take place later this month in Bahrain, which is expected to unveil the first part of the long-awaited peace deal.
“They say that they aren’t looking for an economic solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They are not looking for a better life under occupation. They want any solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to include a political component,” Ibrahim said.
“They want an end to the occupation and not a better life under it. They say that they want a multilateral approach in which the US is not just the sole mediator of any future peace process.”
During campaigning for the first general election in April, Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahupledged to annex illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move long supported by nearly all legislators in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties.
In February this year, Netanyahu told legislators he had been discussing with Washington a plan that would effectively annex illegal settlements.
In a rare public show of disunity between the close allies, the White House then flatly denied any such discussion.
Following persistent expansion of the settlements by successive Netanyahu governments, more than 600,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank, including annexedEast Jerusalem, among some three million Palestinians.
The international community regards the settlements as illegal and the biggest obstacle to peace.