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US and Israel form team to apply sovereignty to settlements

What happened: A US-Israeli committee has been established to start work on the process of applying Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank.

  • The US team will be led by US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, Arieh Lightstone, and Scott Leith – who is responsible for Israeli-Palestinian affairs in the US National Security Council. The Israeli team includes Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, Yariv Levin and Israeli Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ronen Peretz.
  • The committee plans to convert the conceptual map in the Trump plan into what Friedman described as: “A more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved.” Ambassador Friedman said he hoped the committee would begin work immediately.
  • At the Munich Security Conference, the Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, dismissed the Trump plan as “no more than a memo of understanding between Netanyahu and Trump,” adding it would be “buried very soon.” He urged other countries to reject the plan but said Palestinians “are open to serious negotiations.” Shtayyeh said the difference in the 2 March election between Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Netanyahu was: “Not more than the difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola.”
  • The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Egypt and Jordan met on the side-lines of the Munich conference.  Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told Maariv newspaper: “We’ll see how things progress, there are all sorts of proposals.” Safadi called on the international community to seize the reins and discuss a solution that meets the terms of international legitimacy. He stressed that this is a critical moment and everyone should be involved.” Omani Foreign Minister Yousef bin Alawi said in reply to a question from Maariv whether he would meet again with Netanyahu: “First let’s see if he continues as prime minister”, causing the members of the Saudi delegation to burst out laughing.

Context: The US has said it does not expect any announcements about applying Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements until after the 2 March election. The Trump plan proposes that Israeli sovereignty would be applied to 30 per cent of the West Bank, including all of the Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley.

  • The Israeli media reported that no representatives from the Israel Defence Forces will participate in the US- Israel committee’s work, despite the fact that they are legally responsible for administering the West Bank and have always sent their mapping experts to previous talks and negotiations.
  • Speaking at the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting yesterday Benjamin Netanyahu said:  “We are in the midst of a normalisation process with a large number of Arab and Islamic countries. You only see part of this; it is the tip of the iceberg above the surface of the water. Beneath the surface of the water, there are yet many processes that are changing the face of the Middle East and are also placing Israel as a regional and global power.”
  • Israeli Diplomatic Reporters were invited to Ramallah yesterday for briefings with senior PA officials. Mahmoud al-Habash, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s adviser on religious affairs and the PA’s supreme Sharia judge said Israeli-Palestinian security coordination was ongoing, but warned: “The moment we decide security cooperation doesn’t serve Palestinian interests, we will change the coordination.” Another senior PA official, Elias Zananiri addressed concerns of an increase in Palestinian violence against Israelis and said: “We are doing the maximum to prevent it. But will that maximum continue forever? I doubt it.”  ​​​​​​​

Looking ahead: EU foreign ministers are meeting today and Israeli media have speculated that they will announce some kind of detailed response to the Trump plan and the meetings in Munich were intended as consultations ahead of that announcement.

  • According to Haaretz, a group of EU member countries led by Luxembourg will propose EU recognition of a Palestinian state. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has reportedly already discussed the initiative with the foreign ministers of Ireland, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Malta and Slovenia who expressed their support.

On 6 February Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu by phone and expressed the: “UK’s longstanding view on the importance of a two state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both sides, and our opposition to the unilateral annexation of territory.”