WASHINGTON – The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed on Saturday that its ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, will lead the joint Israeli-U.S. committee that will discuss the Israeli annexation of West Bank settlements.
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The committee was announced by Trump last month during the unveiling of his Middle East peace plan, which would see Israel applying sovereignty to swathes of the West Bank in exchange for parts of Israel's south and a cluster of Arab-majority towns in the north.
The participants' goal, as Trump said, is to "convert the conceptual map" shown in the plan into a "more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved.”
In addition to Friedman, other U.S. committee members will include Friedman’s policy adviser Aryeh Lightstone, and Scott Leith, a National Security Council expert on Israel. Israeli members will include Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.
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The Israeli news website Walla reported last week that no representatives of the Israeli military will participate in the committee's work, despite the fact that the Israel Defense Forces administers most of the West Bank.
The committee's composition was first reported on Saturday by the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily. The announcement has since been used to bolster the campaigns of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party ahead of the March 2 Knesset election.
There is still no set timeline for when the committee will finish its work, but Netanyahu has been pressured by right-wing lawmakers in recent weeks to announce the immediate annexation of all settlements before Israelis head to the polls. Three weeks ago, both Netanyahu and Friedman said three weeks ago that Israel will be able to do so before the election, and Netanyahu planned to turn this issue into the cornerstone of his re-election campaign.
The plan to announce the immediate annexation of the settlements was put on hold after Arab states warned the Trump administration that this would force them to denounce the administration’s Middle East plan.
Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner also opposed the prime minister's annexation promises, saying the administration had decided with Israel to wait until a team had been formed to examine the maps, and that he hopes Israel will wait until after the election.