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Netanyahu says he raised West Bank annexations in call with Trump

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he and President Trump discussed the possibilities of a U.S-Israel defense treaty as well as Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank in their call last night.

Why it matters: This is mostly about domestic political positioning for Netanyahu as he and opposition politician Benny Gantz stare down a Dec. 11 deadline to form a government. Netanyahu gave the impression that Trump was favorably disposed toward both goals and called on Gantz to form a unity government to accomplish them.

Between the lines: If neither Netanyahu nor Gantz can get 61 members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to support their government, Israel will have its third elections in less than a year. Both Gantz and Netanyahu, who is facing three corruption indictments, blame the other for the impasse.

Both ideas are highly controversial.

  • Unilateral annexation of the Jordan Valley could kill any peace efforts for the foreseeable future, and the entire international community is against it.
  • The defense treaty idea was, until today, rejected by most of the Israeli and U.S. defense establishments and would have big military and diplomatic consequences.

It is still unclear what Trump told Netanyahu on either topic. The White House issued a short readout of the call saying the leaders discussed Iran and the wider situation in the Middle East.

  • The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Netanyahu's characterization of the call.
  • In September, the White House only said its position on Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank hadn't changed and urged Netanyahu not to jeopardize Trump's long-awaited peace plan.
  • Netanyahu previously raised the defense treaty issue with Trump in a call days after Israel's September election. After the call, Trump tweeted that he would be happy to discuss the issue once Israel had a new government.

A senior official from Gantz's Blue and White party called Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley annexation remarks “election spin,” adding that Netanyahu hasn't taken that step in 14 years as prime minister.

  • “Blue and White supports the annexation of the Jordan valley only as part of a peace agreement but not unilaterally," the official said.
  • Later, Gantz issued a statement rejecting Netanyahu’s proposal of a defense treaty with the U.S, claiming it could limit the Israeli military's freedom of operation.

The latest: Netanyahu wanted to see Trump this week in London on the sidelines of the NATO summit but was politely rejected by the U.K. government, which said it could not host him due to logistical difficulties, taking into consideration that Israel isn’t a member of NATO.

  • Instead, Netanyahu wants to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week in Lisbon, Portugal.

Go deeper: Inside Netanyahu's fight for survival