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Palestinians Lambaste US-Israeli Mapping Committee

Israeli press reports say panel to be headed by US ambassador as part of controversial Trump Administration peace proposal

Palestinian officials lashed out at the Trump Administration on Sunday amid reports in the Israeli media that a joint committee has been established to map areas in the West Bank that might be annexed by Israel with Washington’s recognition.

The committee will reportedly include American and Israeli officials, with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at its head.

The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry said this would constitute “aggression against our Palestinian people and their rights in light of international stances that have rejected the ‘deal of the century,’” and warned of “serious repercussions regarding the chances for achieving peace, security and stability in the entire region.”

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told The Media Line that any committee of this type would be violating global law.

“This committee is an attempt at legitimizing annexation, which is a crime of aggression under international law,” he said. “The Trump Administration and Israel stand alone on this. The messianic dreams of Mr. Friedman are not going to change international law or the international consensus.”

Erekat noted the PA’s refusal to have anything to do with the White House since President Donald Trump announced in December 2017 that he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“This is shameful for the US for all the decent [negotiating] counterparts we’ve had for almost 30 years who, despite all our problems with US positions, were committed to achieving piece,” he stated.

The Israeli media reports said that in addition to Friedman, the American members of the committee would include the ambassador’s policy adviser, Aryeh Lightstone, and Scott Leith, of the National Security Council. The Israeli team would consist of Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, acting director of the Prime Minister’s Office Ronen Peretz and Likud cabinet minister Yariv Levin.

On January 28, President Trump unveiled his long-awaited Mideast plan, which he once referred to as the “deal of the century,” at the White House.

“We will form a joint committee with Israel to convert the conceptual map [presented as part of the plan] into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved,” the US president said at the time, standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Last week, Friedman said: “We’re going to go through a mapping process to convert a map which is drawn at [a scale of] more than a million-to-one into something which really shows on the ground how the territory will be put together.”

Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of PLO Executive Committee, told The Media Line that the US has become part of the conflict itself.

“The American ambassador’s position to head this committee proves that there is a full partnership between the American administration and the [Israeli] occupation, and that [the Israelis] want to impose facts on the ground through the Trump Administration,” he said.

Abu Wasel added that without the Palestinians, “the plan will fail.”

Palestinian leaders have utterly rejected the US proposal, with PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh saying the plan would be “buried very soon.”

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, held this weekend in the German city, Shtayyeh described the plan as “no more than a memo of understanding between Netanyahu and Trump.”

He criticized the proposal for leaving a future Palestinian state fragmented with “no sovereignty” and allowing Israel to annex large tracts of the West Bank. He urged world leaders to reject the plan although he said the Palestinians remained “open to serious negotiations.”

At Sunday’s weekly meeting of the Israeli Cabinet, Netanyahu said his government was “working to turn the West Bank into an integral part of Israel.” This drew a sharp condemnation from PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

Munir al-Jaghoub, who heads Fatah’s Information Department in the Office of Mobilization and Organization, told The Media Line that the Israeli prime minister’s remarks “confirm that [the US proposal] is a plan aimed at extending Israeli hegemony to include all of historic Palestine, and not a plan that seeks to establish peace based on the foundations of justice and respect for international law.”

Last week, in a speech to the United Nations Security Council, Abbas described the Trump plan as an illegitimate, one-sided initiative.

“This is a preemptive Israeli-American plan for putting an end to the question of Palestine,” Abbas said.

The US proposal does not call for the uprooting of Israeli settlements and guarantees Israel’s control over a unified Jerusalem as its capital.

When the plan was unveiled, Netanyahu said he intended to begin the annexation process the following week, although the Trump Administration quickly made it clear that this should wait until after the March 2 Israeli national election.

Ofir Gendelman, the prime minister’s spokesman, told The Media Line that annexation would violate no laws.

It is the “natural and historical right of the Jewish people to its land, including Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the biblical names of the West Bank.

Now the US administration is reportedly saying that no steps in this direction should be taken until after the mapping committee completes its work.

The Israeli press reports provided no timetable for the committee.