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Rare rift: Netanyahu insists he raised West Bank annexation with Pompeo

Netanyahu (L) and Pompeo. Photo: Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has found himself in a battle of narratives with the Trump administration over whether he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Israeli annexation of the West Bank's Jordan Valley during a meeting on Wednesday in Lisbon, Portugal.

Why it matters: There has been virtually no daylight between the Trump administration and Netanyahu's government for three years. This back-and-forth comes with Israel likely headed for its third election campaign in less than a year, in which annexation of the Jordan Valley will again be a prominent talking point for Netanyahu.

Between the lines: Unilateral Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley would be incredibly controversial. It could kill any peace efforts for the foreseeable future, and the entire international community is against it.

What they're saying

On Thursday, Netanyahu told reporters he'd discussed annexation of the Jordan Valley, without going into timetables for when it might happen.

On Friday, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker was asked about this topic and told reporters Netanyahu hadn't presented any plan whatsoever for annexations, hinting Netanyahu misrepresented the content of his meeting with Pompeo:

I can tell you that no annexation plan, full or partial, for any part of the West Bank was presented by Israel to the United States during the meeting, and that has long been the U.S. Government position, that the ultimate disposition of territory is to be determined between the parties."

On Sunday morning, after the State Department pushback had been widely reported in the Israeli press, Netanyahu doubled down — albeit in a more nuanced fashion:

"The issue did come up. It was told that I didn’t discuss a formal plan [with Pompeo]. This is true — I still haven’t raised that. But we did discuss the issue, and I am planning to raise this issue with the administration of President Trump."

Flashback: Last week, Netanyahu claimed to have spoken about this same issue in a phone call with Trump.

  • The White House readout of the call didn’t mention the topic, and Netanyahu has not repeated the claim to have discussed it with Trump.