Israeli envoy said trying to get US okay for swift annexation: ‘Biden could win’

Ron Dermer reportedly campaigning among administration and congressional officials, as some in White House said to express fresh hesitancy over the move

Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer has been campaigning for weeks to convince the Trump administration and US congressmen and public figures to support a swift Israeli annexation of West Bank land before the presidential elections in November, a TV report said Monday.

“We must advance annexation now because we don’t know what will happen in the US presidential elections. [Democratic candidate Joe] Biden could win,” Dermer said in closed briefings in Washington, Channel 13 reported, citing three Israeli and American sources.

“There is a window of opportunity now, so it must be done now,” he added, according to the report.

Biden’s senior foreign policy adviser Tony Blinken said last month that the presidential candidate opposes unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank, an approach that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to implement as early as July.

Blinken said Biden had been “on the record several times [that] unilateral steps taken by either side that make the prospect of a negotiated two-state outcome less likely is something he opposes, and that includes annexation.”

In this combination of file photos, former US vice president Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Delaware, on March 12, 2020, left, and US President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. (AP Photo, File)

Most other members of the international community, especially Europe and the Arab world, vociferously oppose Netanyahu’s plan to unilaterally apply sovereignty over the entire Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements across the West Bank.

The Channel 13 report said that Dermer’s efforts come amid disagreements within the Trump administration regarding annexation, with some elements saying the move should wait.

The hesitation comes as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have delivered strong messages against West Bank annexation and amid worries in Washington regarding stability in Jordan if such a move is carried out.

It also reportedly comes as Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, the new defense minister and foreign minister, respectively, voiced reservations about annexation in their talks last week with visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Gantz is believed to oppose unilateral annexation that could seriously hurt Israel’s relations with numerous countries, including neighbor Jordan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, September 10, 2019. Netanyahu vowed to annex the Jordan Valley and, later, all West Bank settlements if he wins national elections. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Another possible reason for the hesitance is that the White House is busy managing the coronavirus outbreak at the moment.

Some administration officials are reportedly saying immediate annexation would irrevocably close the door on any opportunity to advance the Trump peace plan unveiled earlier this year, if Donald Trump ends up winning the election.

The US State Department’s chief spokesperson told Israeli reporters in a phone briefing Friday that Israeli deliberations about annexing parts of the West Bank should be part of discussions between Israel and the Palestinians on the Trump administration’s peace plan.

US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Asked directly whether Israel still has a “green light” for unilateral annexation, especially since the Palestinians are proving “unwilling to consider the Trump peace plan,” or whether Israel should put annexation on hold, Morgan Ortagus did not give a direct yes or no answer. She said, rather, that the US administration has put out a “comprehensive” peace plan… We’re going to continue to push for this vision for peace that the president has. We have certainly by no means given up hope. In fact it will continue to be a major part of our foreign policy to press for the Palestinians to come to the table as a part of this peace plan, as a part of this process.”

According to the coalition agreement signed between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White, the prime minister can bring the annexation plan to a vote in the Knesset or the cabinet as soon as July 1. If he secures Knesset approval, he can move forward with the plan even without Blue and White’s support.

Annexation will be advanced in coordination with the US and “international dialogue on the issue, while pursuing the security and strategic interests of the State of Israel, including the need for maintaining regional stability, maintaining peace agreements and striving for future peace agreements,” the coalition pact states.

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