Israel claims disagreement with US over West Bank annexation merely ‘technical’
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There is no argument over substance, says top official

Israel claims disagreement with US over West Bank annexation merely ‘technical’

Official on PM’s plane: We planned swift start to multi-stage annexation of Jordan Valley, settlements, surroundings, but US wants to avoid recognizing annexation several times

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump (L) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on January 27, 2020, in Washington, DC (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)
US President Donald Trump (L) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on January 27, 2020, in Washington, DC (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

There is no substantive disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem over Israel’s right to annex the Jordan Valley and other West Bank territories, a senior official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delegation to the US and Russia said Thursday.

“There is no argument over substance. There is only a minor technical issue,” the senior official said.

The peace proposal US President Donald Trump unveiled Tuesday at the White House recognizes Israel’s right to annex the Jordan Valley, all West Bank settlements and their surroundings.

However, it is not clear when Israel would go ahead with this process. Trump on Tuesday spoke of a joint committee in which the US and Israel would convert the plan’s conceptual map “into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved.”

Netanyahu told reporters this week that he would bring the annexation bid to a vote in Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Initially, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman indicated there was no impediment to this, but Jared Kushner and other senior US officials later said that they expected Israel to hold off until at least after the country’s March 2 elections.

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the East Room of the White House on January 28, 2020, in Washington. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/AFP)

The senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Israel wanted to perform the annexation in one, two or possibly three stages — first the Jordan Valley and the settlements, and their immediate surroundings later.

“The Americans don’t want to do it in several rounds, because they don’t want to extend recognition several times. They want to do it one time,” the Israeli official told reporters on Netanyahu’s flight from Moscow to Tel Aviv. “Trump will recognize” Israel’s right to annex all territories the peace plan envisions as being part of Israel, he said. “This is a technical issue only,” he added.

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020

“There is no application of Israeli law without maps. As soon as all the maps are ready, we will present them to the Americans.”

However, the official added, delineating the exact boundaries of all settlements is a complicated undertaking. “It may even take a long time,” he cautioned. Asked if Israel will apply sovereignty over any part of the West Bank, the senior official merely replied: “Patience.”

The official also did not respond when asked if there was a misunderstanding between the Jerusalem and Washington regarding the timing of the annexation.

A view of the Israeli West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

He rebuked reporters for focusing on ostensibly minor technicalities and ignoring the “huge achievements” Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century delivers for Israel.

“We worked on this plan for three years. There were literally hundreds of meetings. This is the best possible deal for Israel,” the official said.

The senior official was also asked about Netanyahu’s 2018 statement that said a prime minister who is investigated for corruption crimes should not engage in major diplomatic initiatives before an election. Netanyahu’s comment referred to Ehud Olmert, who in 2008 sought to negotiate a peace deal with Syria that may have included an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which Israel had captured during the Six Day War.

“These two situations are entirely different,” the senior official said, noting that Olmert wanted to make territorial concessions and uproot Israelis from their homes, while the deal championed by Netanyahu will add territory to Israel and does not include the evacuation of a single Israeli.

“This plan is consensus in Israel,” he added. It needs to be advanced now, a month before the elections, because Israel is stuck in a political stalemate. The White House wanted to publish it now for its own political considerations, the official said.

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