Middle East

Kushner urges Israel to hold off on annexation

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks during a television interview on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, January 29, 2020. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said Washington wants Israel to wait until after its March 2 election before making any moves toward settlement annexation in the West Bank, following the announcement of a U.S. peace plan. Kushner, an architect of the peace proposal hailed by Israel and rejected by the Palestinians, raised the stop sign in a video interview, posted on the internet Thursday, with GZERO Media, a subsidiary of risk analysis firm Eurasia Group.

In the interview, he also voiced U.S. displeasure with the Palestinians, who rejected the plan announced by U.S. President Donald Trump Tuesday, accusing them of playing “the victimhood card” and passing up an opportunity for a state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has hailed the U.S. proposal, told reporters Tuesday that he would ask his Cabinet next week to approve applying Israeli law to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Such a move could be a first step toward formal annexation of the settlements and the Jordan Valley - territory Israel has kept under military occupation since its capture in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek for a future state.

“Well let’s see what happens,” Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law, said when asked about the possibility Israel would begin an annexation process as early as this weekend. “The hope is that they’ll wait until after the election and we’ll work with them to try to come up with something.” As for the Palestinians, Kushner said, “basically what we’re saying ... is ‘put up or shut up.’ If you want to actually make a difference, if you actually care about helping the people, you now have a golden opportunity to do that.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called Trump’s blueprint an “onslaught against the national rights of the Palestinian people.” He plans to speak against the proposal in the U.N. Security Council in the next two weeks.

Washington’s plan envisages a two-state solution with Israel and a future Palestinian state living alongside each other, but with strict conditions on the Palestinians.

It gives Israel much of what it has long sought, including recognition of its West Bank settlements and Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. A redrawn, demilitarized Palestinian state would be subject to Israeli security control, receiving tracts of desert in return for arable land settled by Israelis.

Asked in the interview whether Washington would support Israel if “they go ahead and annex,” Kushner said: “No. What the administration is doing is we’ve agreed with them on forming a technical team to start studying, taking the conceptual map.”

Most countries consider Israeli settlements on land captured in war to be a violation of international law. Trump has changed U.S. policy to withdraw such objections.

Israel’s attorney general still has to weigh in on whether Netanyahu’s present caretaker government has the legal authority to carry out annexation moves.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 31, 2020, on page 5.

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