JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s intention to annex parts of the occupied West Bank is being challenged by Jewish settlers who might have been expected to cheer the plan promoted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under a U.S. peace blueprint.
A month before the proposed expansion of Israeli jurisdiction is due to be discussed by Netanyahu’s new unity government, some settler leaders have resorted to rhetoric likely to embarrass him at the White House.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his top Middle East adviser Jared Kushner “are not friends of Israel”, David Elhayani, head of the umbrella Yesha settler council, told the liberal Haaretz newspaper.
For settler leaders like Elhayani, the peace plan Trump published in January – which includes Israel keeping most of its settlements in the West Bank – has a dangerous flip side.
Their worry – not echoed by all settlers – is that it could pave the way for the U.S. vision of Palestinian statehood in 70% of the West Bank, areas that would envelop some 15 settlements.
Palestinians reject the proposal as a blueprint for an unviable state. Even within Israel and Netanyahu’s coalition, support for annexation is lukewarm.
Accusing Elhayani of ingratitude, Netanyahu publicly commended Trump’s “unsurpassed friendship” towards Israel. A U.S. official briefed on Israel ties played down the flare-up.
Elhayani’s criticism of Trump marks a rare break between settlers and Evangelical Christians, an important constituency for the president in November’s U.S. election. Most world powers deem the settlements illegal.
The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily on Sunday published a sermon by John Hagee in which the influential U.S. pastor welcomed annexation of biblical land as part of the Trump peace plan.
“It was made clear that this historic plan could go into effect within days. However, days have become weeks, weeks have become months,” Hagee lamented.
Elhayani suggested the proposal was designed to gain Trump votes, an idea rejected by a U.S. official.
“We try not to do things because they are popular or not. We do them because they’re right,” said the official.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Timothy Heritage and Daniel Wallis)