Aug 13, 2020 - World

Netanyahu says he's "still committed" to annexations despite UAE deal

Netanyahu. Photo: Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address Thursday that he remains "committed to annexing parts of the West Bank," but agreed to “temporarily suspend” those plans in order to reach a normalization deal with the UAE.

Why it matters: In a joint statement hailed as "historic" by President Trump, Israel said it would not move ahead with annexations as part of a deal for "the full normalization of relations" between Israel and the UAE. But Netanyahu and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) have since offered diverging statements.

What they're saying: Netanyahu, under fire from his right-wing base for backtracking from his campaign promise to annex the West Bank, has emphasized that he has backed off the pledge only temporarily, and at Trump's request.

  • “I am still committed to annexing parts of the West Bank to Israel but it can only happen in coordination with the U.S.," Netanyahu said.
  • Meanwhile, he said this "peace agreement" with the UAE marked “a new age in Israel’s relations with the Arab World."
  • He said he was expecting more Arab and Muslim countries to follow the UAE in recognizing Israel.
  • Netanyahu said one aspect of the deal involved major investments by the UAE in Israeli scientific efforts toward a coronavirus vaccine.

The other side: MBZ emphasized the halt on annexations, while taking a more cautious stance on the normalization of relations. He said they'd agreed to a "roadmap," not a final normalization deal.

  • Between the lines: Any deal with Israel is hugely controversial in the region, particularly one that — according to Palestinian leaders — accepts the status quo of Israeli occupation.

Meanwhile, Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, said at a White House press conference that “Netanyahu was under huge political pressure to annex parts of the West Bank, but he chose to go for peace instead."

  • Jared Kushner, who has worked on Trump's behalf to strengthen ties between Israel and Gulf states, said he thinks Israel “will focus now on promoting relations with the UAE and other Arab countries" and not on annexation.
  • He added that he hopes Israel's decision to avoid “a provocative step” on annexation will encourage Palestinian leaders to return to the negotiating table.
  • Palestinian leaders, meanwhile, have argued that Israel should not be applauded simply for avoiding a step that is widely deemed illegal under international law.

The bottom line: This is a big moment, but the three leaders are all taking different lines on what exactly its significance is.

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