08:18 GMT26 February 2021
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    The White House now says it is "unlikely" to support Israel's plan to extend sovereignty over parts of the West Bank in early July, stating more groundwork was needed to draw the boundaries between Israeli and Palestinian territories.

    As the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, plans to vote on the so-called annexation bill in early July, a recent poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute reveals that 52 percent of Jewish Israelis support applying sovereignty to parts of the predominantly Palestinian West Bank, with only 28 percent rejecting the initiative.

    David Elhayani, mayor of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, is one of those backing the idea of extending Israeli sovereignty but says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be guided by Tel Aviv's national interests, not Washington's "deal of the century" peace plan rolled out at the end of January.

    The American initiative stipulated major land swaps and the creation of an independent Palestinian state if Palestinians dropped their support for terror and disarmed such military groups as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

    The plan also vowed the injection of billions of dollars into the Palestinian economy if their leadership adhered to the deal. The Palestinians have, however, rejected the plan and ended all agreements with Israel and the United States.

    Regardless of their objection, the White House kept pushing for the implementation of the plan, setting up a team comprised of the US ambassador to Israel, his adviser, and a couple of Netanyahu's Likud ministers that aimed at defining Israeli and Palestinian territories and establishing boundaries between them. 

    'Threat to Israel's Security'

    But for Elhayani that map is unrealistic as it poses "a real danger for Israel's national security".

    "Apart from the fact that the American map gives up on 40 percent of the Jordan Valley giving it away to the Palestinians, it also creates a situation where Israeli settlements will be completely surrounded by Palestinians. That will make their lives miserable and eventually prompt many to leave. It is another evacuation plan".

    According to the American initiative, 19 Israeli towns and cities that are home to 20,000 Israelis, will not have a territorial continuity between them. They will still remain in the hands of Tel Aviv but the areas surrounding them will all be under the Palestinian Authority, making them difficult to reach and cutting them off from the outside world, something that sends waves of panic among Jewish settlers residing in those areas.

    "Initially the Americans were saying that their map was conceptual, and that meant we could negotiate with them over the percentage of areas that would be under the Palestinians or the boundaries between us and them. Now, however, we understand they are reluctant to make any changes to that map", Elhayani said over the phone.

    In an attempt to calm everyone down, Netanyahu met with the heads of Jewish settlers on Tuesday stressing that Israel should not miss out on this "historic opportunity" and promising that his government would continue to have talks with the Trump administration to make sure that the final map would take into account Israel's security concerns.

    Elhayani, however, doesn't seem to be taken in. "[Jared] Kushner has been working on this map for three years, roaming around the Middle East to get the support of the Arab leaders. He sold them the idea of a future Palestinian state in exchange for Israel's sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and I doubt that the Americans will backtrack from the promises they had given".

    Yet this is exactly what the US government seems to be doing. Earlier in the day, it was reported that the Trump administration was "highly unlikely" to back Netanyahu's annexation vote in July, saying the maps have not been completed and that it required "meticulous on-the-ground-work".

    The World United Against Annexation?

    Pressure, meanwhile, has been mounting on Israel to scrap its plans. Jordanian King Abdallah II earlier this month warned Tel Aviv of dire consequences and hinted at a possible cancellation of the peace treaty signed between the two in 1994 if the Jewish state dared to go ahead with the plan.

    Similar pressure has also come in from the Europeans, particularly France, who informed Tel Aviv that its ties with the EU, considered to be Israel's largest trading partner, might be in danger following its annexation bill.

    'One-State Solution to Benefit Palestinians'

    Elhayani, however, dismissed these threats claiming they were nothing more than background noise.

    "They cannot boycott Israel as it is illegal in Europe. All they can do is to impose sanctions but that shouldn't scare us. Israel wouldn't have been established if we cared about the international community and its opinion. Besides this, extending sovereignty over [parts of] the West Bank is not only in the interests of Israel. It is also in the interests of the Palestinians".

    Elhayani, who has been living alongside the Palestinians in the West Bank since 1983, believes that ordinary Palestinians are more concerned with putting food on the table rather that politics and an independent state. He suggested that many were disappointed with the two-state solution and would prefer to live under Israeli control rather than "the corrupt Palestinian leadership that has stolen the money injected into the PA throughout the years from international donors".

    But quite the opposite picture is depicted in a poll conducted in 2018. Carried out in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel by Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Public Research, the survey revealed that only 9 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and 10 percent in Gaza backed the idea of having a one-state solution with equal rights for Israelis and the Palestinians. In Israel similar views were expressed by 19 percent of respondents. A situation where Palestinians would not be given equality was backed by 14 percent of Israelis and 9 percent of Palestinians.

    Yet, Elhayani believes the Palestinians would largely benefit from living in Israel, with or without equal rights.

    As of 2017, upwards of 20,000 Palestinians were working in the settlements of the Jordan Valley and that amount has only increased over the years. Earning some $65 a day, Elhayani says, Palestinians are now able to lead a decent and stable life.

    "Their education level has improved. So did their standards of living. You can see it in the houses they build and the cars they drive. They don't care about whether they can vote in Israel's general polls. What they truly care about is financial stability".

    "There will always be radicals who would want to eliminate the Jewish state but if we absorb the Palestinians and show them that we are able to be the address for tackling their problems and concerns, terrorism will be gone. Either way, no matter what happens, we can't allow the establishment of a Palestinian state, not only for the sake of Israel but also for the sake of the Palestinians", he summed up.
    Donald Trump, peace plan, Mideast peace plan, Palestinian Authority, Palestinians, West Bank Settlements, Israeli settlements, Jewish settlements, settlements, bill, annexation, Israel
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