The roll-out of the United States’ much-vaunted peace plan on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be delayed again and is now expected to be released “within the next several months,” US President Donald Trump’s hard-right ambassador to Israel has said.
The American leader said in September that his plan for the ‘deal of the century’ would be rolled out in three to four months. But David Friedman, his envoy who supports Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise and considers liberal Jews to be ‘kapos’, or traitors, said the plan needs more work.
"I would say within the next several months," Mr Friedman told journalists travelling with US National Security Adviser John Bolton after they arrived in Israel on Saturday, according to a transcript released Sunday by the US embassy.
"We want to release it in a way that gives it the best chance of getting a good reception."
The Palestinians have said they will not accept a US peace plan, regardless of its contents, because of a series of moves by Washington in favour of Israel that has allowed its right-wing government to continue illegal settlement building, boost its hold over Jerusalem and ignore international calls for new peace negotiations.
The envoy said that recently announced Israeli elections for April "are a factor, but not the only factor," adding that the plan is "pretty much completed" aside from some "wordsmithing and smoothing".
"The challenge to a peace plan is making the case for a much more sober assessment of the realities in this region," he said.
"The last time there was a meaningful agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians was 1993," Mr Friedman added, referring to the first of the landmark Oslo accords. "A lot has happened since 1993."
Palestinian officials regularly condemn Mr Friedman for his positions, such as funding the hardline Jewish settlement of Beit El in the occupied West Bank, calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel and opposing Palestinian sovereignty over any part of the occupied West Bank. Palestinian officials have cut off all ties to Washington and say they will not resume diplomatic relations until Mr Trump reverses a series of moves, such as cutting all American aid to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the US to recognise Israeli sovereignty of the occupied Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
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Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton were set to visit the region on Monday.
“When you're there, you'll be able to understand perfectly why we'll never leave the Golan Heights, and why it's important that all countries recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Mr Netanyahu said.
Israel uses the Golan as a strategic staging point for its military on the southern border of Syria. Israel has conducted several air strikes in the border areas across from the Golan and even deeper into Syrian territory in a bid to stop what it says is the growing presence of Iranian military assets and the forces of its proxy group Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militia.
The Israeli leader’s call represented another demand of the Israeli government for the Trump administration to boost its hold over territory it captured in the 1967 war.
In May, the US relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognising the city revered by Jews, Muslims and Christians as Israel’s capital. Israel occupies East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek as the capital of any future state.
The international community considers the status of the city to be finalised through bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.