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Israelis Deem US Envoy’s Annexation Statement as ‘Electoral Gift’ to Netanyahu

Israelis Deem US Envoy’s Annexation Statement as ‘Electoral Gift’ to Netanyahu

Tuesday, 11 June, 2019 - 10:15
This picture taken on January 17, 2019, shows the controversial barrier separating the Palestinian West Bank village of Eizariya (foreground) and Jerusalem (background). (Getty Images)
Tel Aviv - Asharq Al-Awsat
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s declaration that Tel Aviv has a right to annex “a portion” of the occupied West Bank has been interpreted by some Israeli officials as a prelude to an announcement by President Donald Trump that would serve as an “electoral gift” to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” Friedman told the New York Times in an interview last week.

An official close to Netanyahu noted that the lawyer-turned-ambassador may not always be diplomatic but he is also neither naive nor un-calculating, and knows very well what he is saying.

When he spoke of Israel's right to annex areas in the West Bank, he made statements on behalf of his superiors, according to the source, who added that Friedman is close to Trump and his family and has formed one of the channels of close relations between Trump and Netanyahu.

Although he is only an ambassador, Trump has chosen him to be a key member of his plan for a Palestinian-Israeli peace plan, known as the “deal of the century.”

The US administration, however, repudiated the ambassador’s statement, saying American policy on Israeli settlements has not changed.

Israeli officials, with the exception of the far-right, were not convinced by the repudiation and believe Trump will soon announce a similar statement.

Israeli analysts said Friedman's statement was “approved by Trump”.

Orly Azoulay, a journalist at the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, said the remarks were made after the president expressed his disappointment with the decision to hold another general election in Israel after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government.

Trump went where no other US president did and intervened in Israel's internal affairs, describing Netanyahu as a good leader, she stated.

Netanyahu could not have wished for a greater gift from Trump: Just days before Israel went to polls in April, the president recognized Tel Aviv’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights and last year, he withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran, according to Azoulay.

She added that Trump now wants to give Netanyahu more gifts by announcing the annexation of the settlements.

The US administration realizes that the chances of implementing the deal of the century are slim and predicts the Palestinians will reject it, she said.

She added that in case that happens, estimates in Washington are that Netanyahu will announce that he has no partner on the Palestinian side and that Washington will grant him a green light to unilaterally annex any piece of land that has settlers.

“The Palestinians, for now, are turning a deaf ear to the US message. They are entrenched in their corner, holed up in their sense of insult and grievance,” wrote analyst Chemi Shalev in Haaretz.

Shalev indicated that they view the US approach as substantive rather than tactical, and are convinced that the outstretched US hand is “meant to strangle them and their national aspirations.”

“In their eyes, the US is no honest broker but a mouthpiece for Netanyahu.”

“The US approach casts Israel as the peace-seeking good guys and the Palestinians as addicted to refusal, and thus, Netanyahu will soon be able to claim that in light of Palestinian rejection, Israel is volunteering to fill its part in the deal of the century by annexing those territories which Friedman mentioned.”

Shalev argued that US policy serves Netanyahu’s personal and political interests, including his attempt to escape the long arm of the law over corruption allegations against him.

“The close alliance between Netanyahu and Trump and the tempting vision that it could fulfill their sweet dreams of owning their biblical homeland spurs the Israeli right to safeguard his rule at any price, including aiding and abetting his flight from prosecution.”

Friedman’s statement is a reminder to Netanyahu’s current and future coalition partners that the end of annexing the settlements justifies the means of aiding and abetting the PM’s efforts to avoid his pending legal proceedings.

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