Apr 30, 2020 - World

West Bank annexations must come in context of Palestinian state, White House tells Israel

Netanyahu (L) at the unveiling of Trump's plan. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The Trump administration has told Israel it won't support annexations in the West Bank unless Israel agrees to negotiate over a Palestinian state and fully endorses President Trump's Middle East peace plan, U.S. and Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to move ahead with annexations, but the White House is urging him not to do so without accepting its broader package, which calls for a Palestinian state after several criteria are met.

What they're saying: A senior U.S. official tells Axios that any Israeli annexations must come "in the context of an offer to the Palestinians to achieve statehood based upon specific terms, conditions, territorial dimensions and generous economic support."

”We are prepared to recognize Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty over areas of the West Bank in the context of the Government of Israel agreeing to negotiate with the Palestinians along the lines set forth in President Trump’s vision."
— Senior U.S. official to Axios

Behind the scenes: The message has been conveyed to Netanyahu and his aides through several channels, Israeli and U.S. officials say.

  • At a meeting of the U.S.-Israeli mapping committee that is attempting to demarcate the parts of the West Bank that could ultimately be annexed by Israel, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told Netanyahu’s aides “the U.S. wants to implement a peace plan, not an annexation plan”.

Where things stand: Netanyahu's coalition deal with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz states that the prime minister can bring "the understandings with the Trump administration [about annexations]" up for debate in the cabinet, and potentially for a vote in parliament after July 1.

What to watch: Once the new government is sworn in, the Trump administration hopes it will formally endorse Trump's plan.

  • The White House wants to see Netanyahu and Gantz act in concert, and is aiming for a broad consensus on the issue across Israeli politics.
  • Jared Kushner spoke last week with Gantz, according to people briefed on the call.

The big picture: Many players in the international community are very concerned that the new Israeli government will move ahead with annexations.

  • A group of 12 European ambassadors, led by the U.K., issued a formal protest to Israel earlier today. They stressed that annexations in the West Bank would destabilize the region and harm Israel’s standing in the international community, European diplomats tell me.
  • The ambassadors of the U.K., Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, along with the deputy ambassador of the EU, issued the diplomatic démarche in a Zoom conference call with the deputy director general of Israel's foreign ministry.
  • The ambassadors said annexing any part of the West Bank would constitute a clear violation of international law.

The backstory: Palestinian leaders have rejected Trump's plan, and withdrew from all talks with the administration after Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

  • Netanyahu, meanwhile, sees the annexations as central to his legacy.
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