Jan 29, 2020

Netanyahu slows annexation push as White House message shifts

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no longer plans to bring annexations in the West Bank before his Cabinet for a vote in the coming days, after being urged to slow down by the White House.

Why it matters: Netanyahu seemed to receive the green light he was looking for yesterday to go ahead with annexations of all Israeli settlements and much of the Jordan Valley — and he planned to act quickly. Now, he's taking a step back.

The backstory: Some in the White House were unhappy with Netanyahu's plan to quickly annex areas envisioned as part of Israel in the proposal President Trump unveiled yesterday.

  • U.S. officials tell me they had previously requested that Netanyahu not take such action right away.
  • "The president could not have been any clearer. This is a process and it will take time," one senior U.S. official says.
  • Netanyahu's aides, meanwhile, say they understood from their talks with the White House that they had the go-ahead.

Part of the confusion was due to contradictory messages from senior U.S. officials.

  • U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman briefed reporters on Tuesday that Israel could begin annexations as soon as they had domestic approval.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a similar message in an interview with me, saying Israel could move forward so long as its steps were consistent with Trump's plan.

On Wednesday, the message changed.

  • U.S. officials including Friedman said in press briefings and in private talks with Netanyahu's aides that a joint U.S.-Israeli committee needs to discuss the details of any annexation plans before they proceed.
  • Friedman said he didn't know how long that process would take.

Where things stand: Netanyahu's aides said the Cabinet would not be voting on annexation next week. One stressed that this was "a complex process that needs a lot of work on maps."

  • Netanyahu's spokesperson even deleted a tweet about the planned Cabinet vote.

The big picture: Israeli annexations in the West Bank could fundamentally change the status quo between the Israelis and Palestinians, imperil Israel's peace treaty with Jordan and spark an uprising among Palestinians.

  • They could also boost Netanyahu's chances in a March 2 election and become a central part of his legacy.

Go deeper: Netanyahu surrenders immunity, faces corruption trial

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