APN's Ori Nir in Ha'aretz: "The Dangerous Irony of Letting David Friedman Carve Up the West Bank"

Letting a religious zealot like Ambassador Friedman decide the future of the West Bank is like allowing the NRA chief to distribute the U.S. army's rifles among the most fanatical gun enthusiasts 

by Ori Nir (Mar 09, 2020)

While we are following the roller coaster of American and Israeli politics, and as we seek shelter from the alarming spread of the Coronavirus, a committee representing the government of Israel and the Trump administration is carving out vast swaths of the occupied West Bank territory – some 30 percent – for Israel to annex. The mapping will apparently be completed in a matter of weeks, and an Israeli government could go ahead and annex the territory shortly after the committee completes its work.

Let it sink in: After decades of efforts by Republican and Democratic U.S. administrations to reign in Israeli governments’ West Bank settlement practices, the Trump administration is now leading the effort to determine the contours of the settlements, recognizing as them as part of sovereign Israel. 

And who is the U.S. government representative leading this process? Who is the head of the committee? It is the person who in the past three years has been a chief architect of the Trump administration’s policy on Israel. It is President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, an ultra-nationalist settlement-supporter, a religious zealot, who called President Barack Obama an anti-Semite, referred to pro-peace American Jews as "worse than kapos," and utterly dismissed the two-state solution. Now he's the one deciding where the future border will be between Greater Israel and the remaining Swiss-cheesed portions of the West Bank, over which the U.S. will allow the Palestinians to negotiate a future limited autonomy – if that. 

Friedman has been an avid supporter of the settlements and the settlers for decades. Letting him carve out the West Bank and hand off vast portions of it to the settlers would be like allowing National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre to distribute the U.S. military’s arsenal of assault rifles among America’s most fanatical gun enthusiasts.

Think about it: When Trump entered the White House, America’s official policy was that settlements are illegitimate and “not helpful” to the pursuit of peace. Republican and Democratic administrations alike have over the years pressured Israeli governments to stop settlement construction or to at least scale it back. Trump’s White House is now encouraging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme right government to do the opposite: to establish possibly irreversible facts on the ground by annexing all the settlements in the West Bank. Past U.S. ambassadors to Israel, armed with maps and satellite photos, used to sit with Israeli government officials, point to rogue settlement activity and demand accountability. This ambassador is now sitting with Netanyahu’s aides and telling them which parts of the West Bank, which past U.S. administrations envisioned as part of the future Palestinian state, could be forever taken from the Palestinians.

When Trump leaves the White House and a new president inhabits the Oval Office, he or she will certainly reverse many of Trump’s irresponsible policies – domestic and foreign.

This annexation policy, however, may be impossible to reverse. That is precisely what Friedman and his fellow annexation committee members want. They want to annul prospects for a two-state solution.

Most American Jews, as polls consistently show, strongly support the two-state solution. So do American Jewish organizations. Even the executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the official American pro-Israel lobby, expressed explicit support for the two-state solution at the lobby’s annual conference last week.

As the specter of annexation looms, it is crucial that American Jews, and the organizations that aspire to represent them, vociferously oppose this disaster, even if it means standing in opposition to the positions of the current (transitional) government of Israel and Netanyahu who heads it.

Ori Nir, a former Washington correspondent and Palestinian affairs correspondent for Haaretz, is the communications director for Americans for Peace Now, the sister-organization of Israel’s Peace Now movement. Twitter: @OriNir_APN