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Top Trump envoy backs Friedman on West Bank annexation

June 17, 2019 at 12:38 pm

US President Donald Trump’s Assistant and Special Envoy for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt (2nd L) visits Nahal Oz military base near the Gaza and Israel border on 30 August 2017 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt has stood behind comments made by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, in which the latter stated Israel has “the right” to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Speaking yesterday at a conference held by Israel’s English language daily the Jerusalem Post in New York, Greenblatt said: “I will let David’s comments stand for themselves. I think he said them elegantly and I support his comments.”

Greenblatt was referring to an interview with Friedman in the New York Times last weekend, in which the ambassador claimed that, “under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank”. Friedman was understood to be referring to Israel’s illegal settlement blocs, several of which extend deep into the occupied West Bank and which Israel seeks to formally annex under any future peace settlement.

Though the US has since stressed there has been “no change” to its West Bank policy, Friedman’s comments have been seen as evidence of the current administration’s willingness to support Israel’s ambitions.

READ: Palestine considers ICC complaint against US ambassador

Greenblatt also yesterday spoke about the “deal of the century”, the long-awaited US peace plan he has designed alongside senior advisor to the US President and Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“I think the logic would still dictate that if we wanted to wait until a new [Israeli] government is formed,” Greenblatt explained, “we really do have to wait until potentially as late as November 6″. His comments have been seen as acknowledgement that the “deal of the century” may have to be delayed, given that Israel will once again head to the polls on 17 September.

After the September election, the winner will be given a maximum of six weeks to form a government. This process could take longer if the victor is unable to build a coalition – as was the case with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following April’s election – and the task is handed to another candidate.

This is not the first time the US has postponed the unveiling of the “deal of the century” to suit Israel’s timescale. In January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that details of the deal would not be revealed until after Israel’s election on 9 April, leading to speculation that the Trump administration was sheltering Netanyahu from any potential fall-out.

For his part, Netanyahu had previously expressed concern that the deal could harm his re-election bid, and had reportedly reached out to his friends in Washington to delay its announcement.

When Netanyahu was re-elected in April but subsequently failed to form a government, this schedule was once again thrown into disarray. Earlier this month, Israeli daily Maariv reported that the deal would not be unveiled until 2020 due to Israel’s domestic political issues; however, with the US elections due to take place in November of that year, it could be delayed even further.

Yet while Greenblatt yesterday conceded that “the new elections [in Israel] have thrown us off,” he stressed that Trump’s own re-election campaign “should not be an obstacle”.

Despite these delays, the so-called “Peace to Prosperity” conference slated to be held in Bahraini capital Manama next week looks set to go ahead. The conference is intended to unveil the economic aspects of the “deal of the century”, without discussing its political features.

Thus far Jordan, Egypt and Morocco have yet to confirm their attendance in Manama, while Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have announced that they will boycott the conference. However the Gulf states – including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia – have said they will attend.

Official: Israel to be at US-led Bahrain peace workshop