Ambassador Friedman returns to the US for White House meeting

What happened: The White House is due to hold a meeting this week to decide whether it should give Israel approval to extend Israeli law to parts of the West Bank.

  • US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is returning to Washington and will attend the meeting alongside Avi Berkowitz, the special representative for international negotiations, Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and possibly President Trump himself.
  • According to Barak Ravid, Channel 13 News, there are internal disagreements within the Trump administration. Ambassador Friedman is the main supporter of extending sovereignty whereas other administration officials have concerns. Secretary of State Pompeo returned from his visit to Israel a month ago with a number of reservations, particularly its potential impact on Jordan and on regional stability. However, Pompeo is thought to have moderated his position to annexation. The biggest question is Kushner, who is not ideologically opposed to annexation, but only wants Israeli actions that will improve the chances of implementing the Trump peace plan in the future.
  • One idea being considered is a gradual Israeli move, possibly including several stages over the coming months. According to Haaretz, “there is an understanding that a gradual annexation process probably means that only one annexation phase would be carried out before the American presidential election, and that the implementation of subsequent stages would depend on whether Trump wins another term in office. But such a conclusion isn’t necessarily shared by Trump’s team, and so far, no final decision has been made within the administration on the issue.”
  • West Bank talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister (APM) and Defence Minister Gantz also continued over the weekend, but without agreement. According to Israeli media, Gantz believes that Israel cannot apply its sovereignty to the Jordan Valley without understanding clearly what action Jordan will take in response. He also believes that the US needs to portray a clearer stance on the issue to Israel before any move. Another principle articulated Gantz by was the need to respect the rights of the Palestinian residents who live in the territories that will come under Israeli sovereignty and to confer on them a status that is equal to Israelis’ status.
  • This morning, Palestinian Authority (PA) official Hussein al-Sheikh warned that if there were an Israeli annexation of the West Bank, even partial, there would be no PA. He said that this was a final decision of the Palestinian leadership and that an announcement to this effect had been relayed in an official letter to Israel and to the US a few months ago. He said that upon the PA’s collapse, Israel would be forced to assume full responsibility for managing security, health, education and sewage in the West Bank.

Context: Over the weekend Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who is close confidant of Netanyahu’s, wrote an an op-ed in The Washington Post, where he argued an Israeli move would not harm the two-state solution, but would in fact help it.

  • Ahead of any move, the Israeli security establishment has not yet formally presented their assessments, but most security heads anticipate any unilateral action by Israel is highly likely to result in violence.
  • Senior IDF officers have reportedly told APM and Defence Minister Gantz that the IDF will need several weeks to make the security preparations and several months to make the civilian preparations, from the moment the political echelon makes a decision.
  • Over the weekend there were more than 100 new cases of Coronavirus in the West Bank. The number of sick has more than doubled since Thursday. The PA has imposed a lockdown in Hebron and Nablus, and has banned assemblies in other places.

Looking ahead: Later this week the commanders of the various branches of the Israeli security establishment are expected to meet the political leaders and present their assessments. The inner forum responsible for the extension of sovereignty now appears to be Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, APM Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

  • Avi Berkowitz, who is part of the US mapping team, is expected to accompany Ambassador Friedman back to Israelto continue consultations with the Israeli leadership.

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