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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.

Go deeper: Read more about the deal

Go deeper

Nov 17, 2020 - World

Biden speaks with Israeli leaders Netanyahu and Rivlin

Biden (L) with Netanyahu in 2010. Photo: Baz Ratner-Pool/Getty Images

President-elect Biden spoke on the phone today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin as part of series of congratulatory phone calls with leaders around the world.

The big picture: The order in which these calls are returned by an incoming president is closely watched. Biden called Netanyahu and Rivlin after speaking with the leaders of nine other U.S. allies over the past few days.

Nov 18, 2020 - World

Israel's plan to influence Biden on Iran

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Israel is drafting a strategy for engaging with the incoming Biden administration on Iran, two Israeli officials tell me.

What they're saying: “We don’t want to be left out again," Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset foreign relations committee in a classified hearing last week. He said Israel had to avoid the mistakes that left it isolated as the Obama administration negotiated the 2015 Iran deal.

Nov 18, 2020 - World

Scoop: Senators urge Trump to label goods from West Bank settlements "Made in Israel"

Sen. Tom Cotton. Photo: Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

A group of Republican senators led by Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) sent a letter to President Trump this week urging him to issue an executive order allowing goods produced in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be labeled “Made in Israel." Axios obtained a copy of the letter.

Why it matters: While the rest of the world views the settlements as illegal under international law and not part of Israel, the Trump administration has taken several steps intended to legitimize them and blur the differentiation between Israel and the West Bank.