Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Monday evening said she was speaking for Israel, not the United States, in saying she had “no doubt” Jerusalem could reach “agreements” with the Trump administration on extending Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank.
The Likud lawmaker had earlier expressed confidence that the US administration could be made amenable to the Israeli position.
“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, in an address to a Jerusalem conference on Monday morning. “There was never [before] a [US] administration that said settlements are not an obstacle to peace.”
But later on Monday evening, her office released a statement clarifying that she meant Israel, not Washington, was eager to advance the annexation bid.
“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,” Hotovely said. “We aren’t speaking for the US administration, rather for Israel.”
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,” leading 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.”
“Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false,” White House spokesman Josh Raffel said in a statement. “The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”
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, while saying he thought the Palestinians were not looking for peace.
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. His comment to the Likud faction meeting was a departure from his previous publicly stated position.
“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, Eric Cortellessa and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.