Is Trump’s peace plan dead on arrival? The US ambassador seems to think so

David Friedman essentially blamed the Palestinians for the plan's failure before it has even been announced

June 11, 2019 16:57

For obvious reasons, the quote which drew the most attention in last Friday’s New York Times interview with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was his statement that “under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

It was interpreted as a green light for Israel to go ahead with annexation of parts of the West Bank, a step Israel has refrained from for 52 years.

Unilateral annexation, even in small parts, would almost certainly lead to a cessation of all ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Some believe it could lead to the dissolution of the PA and even to a new intifada.

But it isn’t clear at all whether Mr Friedman was articulating his own views, or those of the Trump administration.

Before becoming ambassador, Mr Friedman was outspoken in his support for the Israeli right-wing and was a fundraiser in the US for various settler causes.

Since his appointment, he has somewhat toned down his rhetoric, but the content is more or less the same: he made it clear in the interview that he is not a supporter of the two-state solution.

As to the administration’s official position, there does not seem to be one. An unnamed source in Washington said in wake of the interview that the “administration’s position on settlements hasn’t changed” and that Israel had not presented any plans for unilateral annexation.

But what is the position that has not changed?

No senior figure in the administration has come out to contradict Mr Friedman and, by all accounts, his voice is currently the most influential around President Donald Trump when it comes to policy towards Israel.

But the interview may well not have been coordinated with US or Israeli policymakers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is usually swift to praise any pro-Israel statement from the administration, has been noticeably silent since it was published. Annexation does not seem on the cards for now.

Israel is in the grip of another election campaign and no serious planning is taking place for what would be a complex move.

The more immediate question is what Mr Friedman’s statements signify in the context of the Trump Peace Plan.

The administration is still officially pushing the plan, yet to be unveiled, and trying to get Arab diplomats and businesspeople to attend the “workshop” in Bahrain where they plan to present plans to boost the Palestinian economy — but not yet the political section of their plan, if thateven exists.

Mr Friedman, however, did not sound very optimistic in the interview: “Maybe they won’t take it,” he said of the Palestinians. “Maybe it doesn’t meet their minimums.”

Essentially blaming the Palestinians for the failure of the Trump plan even before it has been presented, Mr Friedman judged that “the Palestinian leadership is really the difficulty right now.”

He seems to be right on one thing at least: the Trump Peace Plan is almost certainly dead on arrival.

June 11, 2019 16:57

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