Israel’s UN envoy insists West Bank annexation ‘not off the table’

Gilad Erdan says matter no longer a priority for Washington, but can be discussed again after US elections; sources have told ToI that US assured UAE it won’t back move before 2024

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan arrive for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 1, 2017. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan arrive for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 1, 2017. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations said Wednesday that plans to annex parts of the West Bank were still on the table, despite officials from the United States and United Arab Emirates indicating the move has been called off for the foreseeable future as part of the normalization deals Jerusalem signed this week with the UAE and Bahrain.

Gilad Erdan, a former top member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party who is also set to take over as ambassador to the US, said that he had spoken to the premier about the matter.

“The annexation is not off the table. It can be discussed again after the US elections,” Erdan told Army Radio, referring to the November 3 vote in which US President Donald Trump faces Democrat Joe Biden.

“The annexation hasn’t been canceled, but it is off the Americans’ priority list,” he added. “We knew this can’t happen without cooperation from the Trump administration.”

Netanyahu had for months promised to annex large parts of the West Bank as early as July 1, but that plan was suspended as part of the normalization agreement with the UAE, as specified in the countries August 13 joint statement. Trump said last month that the matter has been “taken off the table,” though Netanyahu insists that it remains “on the table.”

Hosting Netanyahu on Tuesday, and asked if annexation was now “off the table,” Trump replied: “We don’t want to talk about that right now, but that’s working out very well and very fair and very good for the people that are coming in [to the normalization deals] and for Israel.”

L-R: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House on September 15, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Sources with direct knowledge of the matter told The Times of Israel recently that the Trump administration had given the UAE a commitment during normalization negotiations that Washington would not recognize an Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements until 2024 at the earliest.

The sides have not formally provided an exact timeframe for how long the matter has been taken off the table.

According to three sources with direct knowledge of the normalization negotiations, Emirati officials, led by the UAE’s Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba, focused on seeking assurances from the US, rather than Israel, on the matter.

They were largely uninterested in receiving an Israeli commitment to an annexation freeze, the sources said, since they understood that Netanyahu would not move forward with the move without US support; the premier for months had said as much himself.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to plant a tree during an event on the Jewish holiday of Tu BiShvat, in the settlement of Mevo’ot Yericho, in the West Bank near the Palestinian city of Jericho, February 10, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Trump administration negotiators, led by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, agreed to set a timetable for annexation that was consistent with the one laid out for the Palestinians in the Trump peace plan, the sources said.

The Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan unveiled in January 2020 gives the Palestinian Authority a four-year window to engage with it, during which Israel is barred from expanding into areas earmarked under the plan for a future Palestinian state.

The Trump administration is hoping to use the final year of its hypothetical second term to “hold the Palestinians’ feet to the fire,” using the possibility of it otherwise backing annexation as a last piece of leverage to bring the PA to the table, one source said.

The White House declined to comment, as did UAE officials in Washington and New York.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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