Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday did not offer a decisive answer to a question from Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee, as to whether or not the US administration still supports a Palestinian state after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged to impose Israeli sovereignty on the Jewish settlements of Judea and Samaria.
Instead, Pompeo replied: “Ultimately the Israelis and Palestinians will decide how to resolve this.”
Pompeo did say that President Donald Trump’s peace envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt are about to reveal their proposal “to resolve a problem that’s been going on for decades and decades that previous administrations couldn’t solve,” and that the administration is “hopeful that we have some ideas that are different, unique, which will allow the Israelis and the Palestinian people to come to a resolution of the conflict.”
Rightwing Union leader MK Bezalel Smotrich on Tuesday night declared that his party would hold Netanyahu’s feet to the fire on his sovereignty promise, even if all he had meant was to win the settlers’ vote.
Incidentally, despite media reports, Netanyahu did not commit to an annexation of parts or the entire liberated territories of Judea and Samaria. Instead, he merely promised to replace the civil government of the IDF in those areas with regular Israeli law – only in the settlements.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, oblivious to these distinctions, told Pompeo that a unilateral annexation “indicates no agreement with the Palestinians,” and noted that “it sounds like you’ve already abandoned what has been a bipartisan foreign policy of opposing the annexation of any or all of the West Bank by Israel.”
It should also be noted that an official, limited sovereignty would not make a very big difference in the everyday life of Israeli settlers. This is because the military governor adopts nearly every new Knesset legislation as a matter of course.
Netanyahu could endow this limited sovereignty move a much more significant force by following the Supreme Court ruling and demolishing Khan al-Ahmar, the illegal shantytown near Kfar Adumim. This would effectively draw a buffer between the northern and southern halves of the Palestinian Authority and connect the settlement city of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem.
Demolishing or failing to demolish Khan al-Ahmar could be the first signal from 4th term prime minister Netanyahu as to whether he is or isn’t a true part of the right-wing bloc.
It doesn’t look as if Trump is planning to hold him back.