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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."

Go deeper

What happens now that emergency orders are lifting

Expand chart
Data: National Academy for State Health Policy and various governor declarations; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Soon, more than half the states will have ended their formal emergency declarations for the pandemic — which could have a ripple of effects across the economy.

Why it matters: Lifting those orders will allow businesses to serve more customers, but will also end certain safety nets, including expanded food and housing assistance, as well as eviction protections.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

500 Hong Kong police officers raid pro-democracy newspaper

Chief Operations Officer Chow Tat Kuen (front 2nd R) is escorted by police from the Apple Daily newspaper offices before being put into a waiting vehicle in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong's Apple Daily said 500 police officers searched the pro-democracy newspaper's offices and arrested five senior executives on Thursday.

Why it matters: The arrests of the paper's chief editor, Ryan Law, along with its chief operating officer, two other editors and the CEO of Next Digital, which operates Apple Daily, were made under China's national security law — which gives the government broad power to limit people's political freedom.

World Bank rejects El Salvador's request to help implement bitcoin

President Nayib Bukele, giving a speech in El Salvador's legislative assembly in San Salvado earlier this month, pushed for bitcoin to become legal tender. Photo: Emerson Flores/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images

The World Bank has rejected the government of El Salvador's request to help the country implement Bitcoin as legal tender, Reuters first reported late Wednesday.

Why it matters: The international lender's rejection could hamper the government's goal of making the digital currency accepted across the country within three months.