US ambassador warns Israel against unilateral West Bank annexation
President Donald Trump's so-called "Deal of the Century", unveiled late last month, is widely considered to have given Tel Aviv the green light to annex the Jordan Valley and settlements in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially sought to swiftly "apply Israeli law" - a by-word for de-facto annexation - to occupied territories earmarked under the plan ahead of Israel's national elections on March 2, but pushback from Washington has seen the premier back down, much to the chagrin of his right-wing base.
The White House has specified that the move must be agreed under a joint US-Israeli mapping process.
"Israel is subject to the completion [of] a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee. Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the Plan & American recognition," US envoy David Friedman said in a tweet on Sunday.
In a separate speech, the controversial ambassador said his message for Israel was "a little bit of patience, to go through a process, to do it right, is not something which we think is too much to ask for," Reuters reported.
"With the news out that the [Israeli] cabinet was about to be pushed in a direction that was potentially adverse to our view of the process, we just let people know where we stand," he told the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) think-tank.
"It was not a threat," Friedman added.He told the JCPA that the mapping process - work for which the Israeli premier said on Saturday was already underway - was unlikely to be finished before the March 2 elections, Israel's third in a year.
Alluding to criticism from his far-right rivals who want annexation to take place immediately, Netanyahu told an election rally: "We've been waiting since 1967 and some people are making a big deal out of a few weeks."
Friedman was personally appointed as US ambassador to Israel by Trump, after he worked as a chief advisor during his election campaign.
The appointment caused outrage among liberal American Jews, Palestinians and others based due to his pro-settlement views and activism.
Before taking office, he spent time as the director of the American Friends of Beit El Institutions, a fund which has raised tens of millions of dollars for the Beit El settlement, among the most radical settlements in the West Bank.
As a diplomat, Friedman has had no qualms about expressing his controversial views on Israel and Palestine.
He last year said Israel has the "right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank".
As well as backing the contentious US embassy move to Jerusalem and aid cuts to the Palestinians, Friedman recommended dropping the word "occupied" from official US references to the Palestinian territories and lobbied Washington to refer to them as "Judea and Samaria".
|Conceptual maps released by the White House last month [Click to enlarge]|