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Rare rift: U.S. demanded Netanyahu backtrack on annexation claim

Netanyahu. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The Trump administration was stunned today to hear Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's statements about discussions he claimed to have had with the White House on annexation of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The bottom line: Israeli and U.S. officials told me senior Trump administration officials were unhappy, fearing the claim could derail Secretary of State Tillerson's trip to the Middle East, and gave Netanyahu and his advisers a clear demand to backtrack. The U.S. and Israeli governments had moved in lockstep on the Palestinian issue since Trump took office, until now.

How it happened

  1. Netanyahu told lawmakers at a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on Monday that he has been discussing the possibility of annexing the settlements with the Trump administration "for some time now." The details.
  2. The Trump administration denied that such discussions had taken place, and Israel backtracked. We now know the Trump administration demanded they do so.

Behind the scenes

Although Netanyahu's political advisers were the ones who briefed the press about his initial annexation statements, the Prime Minister and his associates tried telling the White House his remarks were taken out of context, Israeli officials said.

In the end, under U.S. pressure, Netanyahu had to issue a clarification which denied his own annexation statements from a few hours earlier.  

The cause of concern

One of the reasons for the U.S. anger was the trip by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to five Arab capitals this week.

  • Tillerson is hoping to convince Arab leaders to urge the Palestinians to come back to the negotiations table and end their boycott over Trump's Jerusalem announcement. U.S. officials felt Netanyahu's annexation statements might sabotage Tillerson's mission.

After Netanyahu already backtracked from his statements the White House issued an unusually harsh statement against Netanyahu's annexation claims. Josh Raffel, White House spokesman said:

"Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false. The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the President’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative."