Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have grown increasingly frustrated at White House pushback over plans to immediately annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank as envisioned in the Trump peace plan, with their ire focused in particular on presidential adviser Jared Kushner, according to Israeli media reports.
Sources among Israeli settler groups and within the prime minister’s circle, according to the reports, blame Kushner for a split in the administration, portraying U.S. Ambassador David Friedman as more willing to see Israel annex the settlements in short order and Kushner resisting fast action. The move would allow Netanyahu to shore up right-wing support in advance of national elections here in March, observers say.
The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Netanyahu said hours after the plan’s release that he planned to bring annexation before his cabinet within days. Friedman told reporters that day that the timing was up to Israel.
“If Israelis apply Israeli law to the settlement and territory allocated to Israel under the plan, a significant minority of the West Bank, then we will recognize Israeli sovereignty,” Friedman said.
But Kushner, in interviews and reportedly in conversations with Israeli officials, put the brakes on, saying the move should wait on a new government to be formed after next month’s vote.
The ambassador, in another media call the day after the plan’s release, said the measure would require coordination with a joint American-Israeli committee. Analysts blamed Netanyahu for jumping the gun in response to pressure from settlement groups, and his own defense minister, to enact the annexation measure immediately.
The euphoria within Netanyahu’s Likud party after the prime minister stood shoulder-to-shoulder appearance with President Donald Trump for the plan’s release turned sour after annexation plans were scrambled. Some blamed the prime minister for bungling the moment by either misunderstanding the White House stance or trying to force his timetable through regardless. “What happened that caused Netanyahu’s annexation blunder?” asked a headline in the Jerusalem Post.
But other reports have been filled with unnamed complaints that it is Kushner who is thwarting Netanyahu’s plans to take maximum advantage of the long-awaited plan. Channel 13 reporter Nadav Eyal tweeted that people in Netanyahu’s circle accuse Kushner of “backstabbing” the prime minister and warning that Trump’s evangelical voters “aren’t going to be happy.”
The schedule for annexation remains unclear, but the delay is already adding to the heartburn among Israel’s right wing, where the peace plan has been awaited as a moment of triumph and a political boost for Netanyahu, who is campaigning against the head winds of a multi-count corruption indictment.
Trump’s proposal would lock in long-sought achievements for Israel, including control of the Jordan Valley and most of Jerusalem. The Palestinian leadership has rejected the plan out-of-hand as fatally biased in Israel’s favor. And signs that some of Israel’s Arab neighbors would support, or at least remain neutral, were weakened when foreign ministers within the Arab League voted unanimously Sunday to reject it.
Leaders of the settlers’ community, a key block of the support for the prime minister, have demanded that Netanyahu act now on their long-standing goal of extending Israeli sovereignty over more than 135 settlements dotted across a third of the West Bank. Many settlers opposed the broader peace plan because it allowed for a future Palestinian state of limited autonomy on the remaining territory, but still hoped to use the proposal to enact annexation.
But resistance to the peace plan has hardened, splitting the movement. The Yesha Council, an umbrella group of settlement leaders, announced it would formally oppose the proposal Monday, leading the mayor of Ariel, one of the largest and more moderate settlements to resign from the body.
The council planned to pitch a tent outside of Netanyahu’s office to demand “sovereignty now,” according to the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
“What can be taken must be taken,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said in a meeting with the group, according to the report.
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Steve Hendrix, Ruth Eglash ·