Mon | Apr 6, 2020

Opposition co-leader: PM makes Trump plan a ‘stunt’

Published:Tuesday | February 11, 2020 | 12:06 AM
In this October 31, 2016 file photo, Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid gives an interview in his office at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM (AP):

A leading Israeli opposition figure said yesterday that embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned a United States (US) initiative for ending conflict with the Palestinians into a campaign “stunt” by pushing for the immediate annexation of West Bank settlements.

Co-leader of the Blue and White party Yair Lapid insisted he was against unilateral steps endangering what he described as President Donald Trump’s promising Mideast plan. He expressed hope that the Palestinians would come around to negotiating based upon the US blueprint.

Lapid is slated to become Israel’s next foreign minister if his party prevails in the March 2 election and fellow party leader Benny Gantz wins the premiership.

“Nobody expects Israel or the Palestinians to take the plan at face value the way it is and just make sure it happens. Everybody understands this is a framework, a very detailed one,” he told an audience of foreign correspondents in Jerusalem, before zoning in on Netanyahu.

Lapid went on to condemn what he said was the prime minister’s “unilateral steps” to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

“This is something that came out from the prime minister’s office right after the plan was presented. Probably, it seems, for campaign reasons. And this is something you don’t do. This is too serious to become a stunt in the campaign,” he added.

The Trump plan is widely viewed as being favourable to Israel, since it would allow it to eventually extend sovereignty over all of its West Bank settlements along with the strategic Jordan Valley.

The Palestinian have angrily rejected the US plan. It would only provide Palestinians with limited autonomy in several chunks of territory with a capital on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and only if they meet stringent conditions.

Netanyahu has sought to sell the plan, and his close relationship to Trump, as a testament to his master statesmanship ahead of the country’s third elections in less than a year. He’s also seeking to galvanise his hard-line base by annexing territory ahead of the election. The proposed move could establish facts on the ground that would be difficult to reverse, and make the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state all but impossible.

But he’s been forced to walk that pledge back under criticism from the typically like-minded Trump administration that has chided Israel’s zest for annexation.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman reiterated that concern, saying Sunday that such a move was “subject to the completion of a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee,” and warning that rushing it undermines the plan.