Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to Donald Trump, said on Wednesday the US president would soon have a “big announcement” about Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to begin the process as early as July 1. Officials in the Trump administration are set to decide this week on whether to approve Netanyahu’s declared plan.
“There are conversations being had. Obviously the president will have an announcement. He’s talked about this in the past and I’ll leave it to him to give you a big announcement. Very happy those talks continue,” Conway told reporters at the White House.
“Let’s just see, because he wants to be an agent for peace in the Middle East and he’s trying to do that,” Conway said. “He has tried to bring peace to the Middle East in many different ways”
When asked if Trump was concerned about a backlash from Arab states and the Palestinians over Israel’s annexation plans, Conway downplayed the fears, citing the muted response to Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which he announced in December 2017.
“’He moves the embassy to Jerusalem, the Arab world is going to disappear.’ Thank God that wasn’t true. There’s always this scare tactic… of all the bad that’s going to happen, and then it doesn’t happen,” she said.
The Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which was unveiled in January, allocates to Israel some 30 percent of the West Bank, including all 132 settlements and the Jordan Valley, and allows for a demilitarized Palestinian state.
Senior aides to Trump on Tuesday began discussions on the administration’s position on annexation, a US official and a person familiar with the deliberations told the Reuters news agency.
The White House discussions reportedly included senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, the US official said.
US enthusiasm for the move has appeared to cool in recent weeks amid vociferous opposition from American allies in the Middle East.
The United States reportedly also wants the plan backed by Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi — the defense and foreign ministers — who are thus far withholding the go-ahead amid intense discussions.
Gantz on Tuesday signaled he could back unilateral annexation of West Bank land, citing persistent refusals by the Palestinians to reach a deal with Israel, while reiterating his demand that the move not endanger Israel’s existing peace agreements.
Concerned about the collateral damage that could follow from allowing Israel to move ahead with its plan, Washington is reportedly considering backing the annexation of only a handful of settlements close to Jerusalem.
“Ultimately, as the team approaches this thought of annexation, the main thing going through our heads is, ‘Does this in fact help advance the cause of peace?’ And therefore that is what will help drive a lot of the discussion,” a senior Trump administration official told Reuters in a report published Monday evening.
The administration is reportedly looking at different options, including a staged process in which Israel would start by declaring sovereignty only over several settlements in the Jerusalem area, the report said, citing an unnamed source.
The official noted that Washington has not ruled out Netanyahu’s larger annexation vision but is concerned that a large-scale, rapid, unilateral move by Israel could seal off any chance that the Palestinians may agree to discuss Trump’s peace plan.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that any decision on whether to annex West Bank land was up to Israel to make.
“Decisions about Israelis extending sovereignty to those places are decisions for the Israelis to make,” Pompeo told reporters. “We are talking to all of the countries in the region about how it is we can manage this process for our end-state objective.”
He was speaking moments after the United Nations and the Arab League, during a UN Security Council session, joined in calling for Israel to abandon its annexation plans and warned of dangerous consequences if the move goes ahead.
Arab states, notably US ally Jordan, have voiced alarm at Netanyahu’s indication that he will move ahead as soon as next week with annexation, saying that it would kill prospects for peace.
Jordanian King Abdullah II last week deemed unilateral annexation “unacceptable” in briefings to American lawmakers, and is expected to withdraw his ambassador, downgrade ties with Israel and reconsider the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty if Netanyahu goes ahead with such a move.
But Pompeo said that both Netanyahu and Gulf states backed the Trump plan.
“I regret only that the Palestinian Authority has refused to participate in that,” Pompeo said.
“I remain hopeful that in the coming weeks, we can begin to make real progress towards achieving that,” he said of Trump’s plan.
Agencies contributed to this report.