Deputy FM: ‘No doubt’ Israel can reach agreements with Trump on annexation

Tzipi Hotovely praises US administration for stance on settlements, day after US president says Jewish building in West Bank ‘complicates’ peace

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (3R) at the Jerusalem Conference, organized by the B'Sheva newspaper, on February 12, 2018. (courtesy)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (3R) at the Jerusalem Conference, organized by the B'Sheva newspaper, on February 12, 2018. (courtesy)

As Israeli lawmakers push for a bill that would annex large parts of the West Bank, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Monday morning said she has “no doubt” Israel could reach “agreements” with the Trump administration on extending sovereignty to the entire territory.

Speaking at the Jerusalem Conference organized by the right-wing B’Sheva paper, the Likud lawmaker lamented that “for many years, we said no to a Palestinian state, instead of saying yes to sovereignty.”

“I have no doubt that with this current American administration, with the right cooperation and work, we can reach agreements on this topic — something that never existed on the past,” said Hotovely. “There was never [before] a [US] administration that said settlements are not an obstacle to peace.”

She was referring to a statement by the White House in February 2017 in which the nascent administration declared that settlements are not an “impediment to peace.”

That statement, however, further said that “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful.”

In this Tuesday, May 23, 2017 file photo, US President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

Hotovely spoke hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at a Likud faction meeting that he had been discussing with the Trump administration a “historic” initiative to annex Israeli settlement areas over the Green Line.

“I can tell you that for a while now I’ve been talking about it with the Americans,” Netanyahu said. “I’m guided by two principles in this issue … optimal coordination with the Americans, whose relationship with us is a strategic asset for Israel and the settlement movement; and the fact that it must be a government initiative rather than a private one because it would be a historic move.”

The Trump administration later on Monday flatly denied Netanyahu’s claim as “false,” drawing the prime minister to swiftly backtrack, with his office issuing a clarification that he had merely “updated the Americans on initiatives being presented in the Knesset.”

On Monday evening, a statement from Hotovely’s office said the deputy foreign minister was not “speaking for the US administration, rather for Israel” in her earlier speech.

“My comments at the Jerusalem Conference were designed to say that the Israeli public is ready for the extension of sovereignty and we must work with the American administration,” she said. “We aren’t speaking for the US administration, rather for Israel.”

In her morning speech, Hotovely did not go into detail on what areas of the West Bank she foresaw being annexed. But she termed a recent nonbinding resolution by the Likud Central Committee backing annexation a “revolution.”

“When the Likud Central Committee passes a resolution like this, not long ago, this is a revolution, a conceptual revolution,” she said of the December vote.

The Israeli government must advance a “positive narrative” in which “sovereignty is above all,” she concluded.

Hotovely’s speech also came a day after US President Donald Trump, in an interview with the Israel Hayom daily, said the settlements “complicate” peace efforts.

“The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements,” Trump said. In that interview, the US president also cast doubt on Israel’s interest in reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Trump, in a joint press conference with Netanyahu in Washington last year, asked the Israeli premier to “hold off on settlements for a little bit.”

The deputy foreign minister’s remarks also came a day after coalition leaders again delayed a vote on a bill that would extend sovereignty to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Netanyahu, who holds the foreign affairs ministerial portfolio, has repeatedly blocked or delayed annexation proposals, citing coordination with the US or diplomatic considerations.

“I said it before, and I will repeat it here again: I don’t want to annex close to 2.5 millions Palestinians to Israel. I do not want them to be our subjects,” Netanyahu told Israeli and international reporters shortly after he left the White House following his first meeting with Trump in February 2017.

Raphael Ahren and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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