Amb. Friedman Warns Israel: No Annexation Without U.S. Consent

YERUSHALAYIM -
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during a briefing at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in Jerusalem, Sunday. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Israel must not unilaterally annex areas of Yehudah and Shomron without American consent, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Sunday. In a social media post, Friedman wrote that “Israel is subject to the completion 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.”

The message was the first definitive comment by an American official on the controversy surrounding when Israel should annex areas of Yehudah and Shomron specified by President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” peace plan. The plan was introduced nearly two weeks ago by Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a festive ceremony in Washington, with many Israelis getting the impression that annexation of many parts of Area C, including the Jordan Valley – or at least Jewish towns in Yehuda and Shomron – would be at Israel’s discretion.

But comments from American officials in recent days reduced those expectations. In an interview last Sunday, U.S. Mideast negotiator Jared Kushner said that Washington “hoped” Israel would hold off on annexation until after the March 2 elections. “The hope is that they’ll wait till after the election, and we’ll work with them to try to come up with something,” Kushner said, adding that there were many parameters that needed to be examined and understood.

“We’ve agreed with them on forming a technical team to start studying the conceptual map. The Jordan Valley can mean a lot of different things,” Kushner said, citing an example. “I think we’d need an Israeli government in place in order to move forward,” he added.

In Sunday’s message, Friedman wrote that “President Trump’s Vision for Peace is the product of more than three years of close consultations among the President, PM Netanyahu and their respective senior staff. As we have stated, the application of Israeli law to the territory which the Plan provides to be part of” the overall plan, which entails coordination with the U.S. as to what will be included, Friedman wrote.

At an election rally Motzoei Shabbos, Netanyahu said that the decisions on what areas to annex would likely be made only after the election – and that he needed to be the person making those decisions. “We are in the midst of mapping the areas that will be part of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said at the rally in Maale Adumim. “It’s a lot of territory, and the border will be 800 kilometers long. We are initiating this and President Trump will endorse it. I trust him and I totally trust myself. I do not trust Benny Gantz. If it is up to Gantz, sovereignty will not happen. We have been waiting since 1967, and people are making a big deal of a few weeks” until after the election, he added.