Netanyahu Condemns Settler Leader Who Said Trump Is 'Not a Friend of Israel'

Trump is a 'great friend of the State of Israel,' Netanyahu says after settler leader slams Mideast peace plan as not prioritizing Israel's security or settlement interests

Noa Landau
Hagar Shezaf
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Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Donald Trump on a visit to the White House, March 25, 2019.
Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Donald Trump on a visit to the White House, March 25, 2019.Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
Noa Landau
Hagar Shezaf

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "fiercely condemned" Wednesday statements made by a major settler leader about U.S. President Donald Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner's Middle East Peace Plan.

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"President Trump is a great friend of the State of Israel," he said. "He has led historic processes for the good of the State of Israel, among them recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capitol, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing the legality of the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria."

Trump's Middle East plan, Netanyahu added, "includes recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, Israeli security control of all territory west of the Jordan River, a united Jerusalem, disarming Hamas, preventing [Palestinian] refugees from entering Israel and more.  Sadly," he added, "instead of recognizing the good, there are those who deny this friendship."   

Yesha Council Chairman David Elhayani told Haaretz earlier Wednesday that Trump and Kushner "have proven in their plan that they are not friends of the State of Israel," responding to calls by American officials to restrain the Israeli right’s opposition to the White House's “Middle East Peace Plan.”

Ayelet Shaked with Yesha Council Chairman David Elhayani at the Knesset, May 26, 2020.
Ayelet Shaked with Yesha Council Chairman David Elhayani at the Knesset, May 26, 2020.

Knesset speaker Yariv Levin also condemned Elhayani's statements, calling them "flippant and irresponsible" and "deserving of all condemnation and criticism. With all due respect" to Elhayani, Levin said, "he needs to thank President Trump on his magnificent work for the good of the State of Israel and for the good of the settlements."

He added that Elhayani's comments are particularly damaging at a time when "an important effort to advance the historic process of applying sovereignty" to parts of the West Bank.

Elhayani responded to Levin's comments: "It is best for Yariv Levin to shed his snakeskin and to focus his gaze on Likud's voters, and acknowledge his responsibility to draft the evacuation map and establish a Palestinian state." 

The Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party came to Elhayani's defense, saying that "friends do not get involved in your life. They do not tear your country, and they do not establish another terrorist state on your forefathers' inheritance." 

The statement continued, "If that doesn't please the Americans, then they can take their embassy out of Jerusalem. We don't need approval from anyone that this land is ours eternally. And we will not pay for temporary 'friendship' in eternal values!" 

Over the past few weeks, American officials have conveyed to settler leaders that their vocal criticism of Trump's plan might lead them to shelf it altogether, dubbing their response ungrateful. This followed a public campaign led by the Yesha Council of West Bank settlements, rejecting the prospect of a future Palestinian state as delineated in the American proposal.

Trump and Kushner "do not have Israel's security and settlement interests in mind. All they care about in this outline is promoting their own interests ahead of the upcoming election, [in a way that would] help Trump," Elhayani argued.

Efrat Mayor Oded Ravivi countered the statements, saying that he encountered many "loyal to Israel" at government meetings, along with those who hold the idea of Israel as a Jewish state dear to them.

"In long conversations, all the representatives stressed the necessity of reinforcing Israel's power, along with the necessity of ensuring the future of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria," he said. "There has never been a more supportive government of Israel and the settlement movement."  

American officials have argued to settler leaders that public criticism is particularly inappropriate at this time, given that it comes while they handle the coronavirus crisis and the latest wave of racial justice protests in the United States.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly announces commitment to negotiations with Palestinians under Trump's proposal, but on Tuesday, he told settler leaders that should annexation of West Bank lands be brought before the government or Knesset for approval, it would be promoted independently of the U.S. president's plan, according to sources familiar with the content of the meeting.

After the meeting, Netanyahu's office put out a statement that the prime minister is committed to negotiations with Palestinians under the Trump plan. This means that Netanyahu's commitment would be declarative rather than written into law.

Palestinian leaders have unequivocally rejected the plan proposed by the Trump administration, saying it is biased toward Israel, and called for international sanctions if Israel goes ahead with its plan for unilateral annexation.

As Netanyahu's target date of July 1 approaches for annexing West Bank lands, rifts and disagreements are emerging among Israeli settler leaders. Settler leaders are careful not to appear as though they totally reject the Trump plan. Instead, they are conveying that they expect the preconditions to be omitted and a greenlight for unilateral annexation while the future negotiations remain far off in the future.

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