WASHINGTON — Senior White House official Jared Kushner said Monday that US President Donald Trump would not allow Israel to reverse its pledge to hold off on annexing West Bank territory in exchange for normalizing ties with the United Arab Emirates.
“President Trump is committed to holding them accountable to it, and Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward without our consent,” Kushner told reporters during a briefing. “We do not plan to give our consent for some time, as right now the focus has to be on getting this new peace agreement implemented.”
Settler leaders and right-wing legislators have heavily criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for putting aside his annexation proposal as part of the UAE deal.
Netanyahu, however, declared shortly after the announcement that he was not abandoning his annexation plans for the West Bank.
“There is no change to our plans to apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, in coordination with the US,” Netanyahu said late Thursday. “I remain committed to that.”
Kushner highlighted Monday that Netanyahu had promised Washington that he would not annex West Bank territory without the White House’s permission.
“He has given us assurances that he won’t do it without our consent, and that’s good enough for us,” Kushner said. “We believe that agreement will hold.”
Netanyahu has vowed repeatedly to annex all of the settlements and the entire Jordan Valley — territory that the White House allocated to Israel under its Israeli-Palestinian proposal, which conditionally envisions a Palestinian state in the remaining territory with land swaps.
Trump referred to the suspension of those plans several times at a press briefing last week, including by saying it was “more than just off the table.”
Kushner said the US wanted Israel to direct its efforts toward enacting the UAE deal and forging more normalization agreements in the region.
“We really want to get as much interchange between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as possible, and we really want Israel to focus on creating new relationships and new alliances,” said the former real estate executive, whom Trump tasked with leading his Mideast peace efforts.
“That is land that right now Israel, quite frankly, controls,” Kushner added, referring to the West Bank. “It’s Israelis who are living there. It’s not going anywhere. There shouldn’t be any urgency to apply Israeli law. So we believe that they will stick to their agreement.”
Israel’s historic deal with the UAE marked the third normalization agreement Israel has struck with an Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan. Trump said he hoped to host a signing ceremony in about three weeks.
In the days following the bombshell announcement, there have already been rumblings that more Arab states will follow in UAE’s footsteps.
Kushner said hours after the deal was announced that there was a “very good chance” that more deals will be announced in the coming 90 days. Netanyahu also predicted a widening circle of peace.
Senior Israeli officials reportedly said Thursday that they are in advanced talks with Bahrain about normalizing ties. A senior American official also said that Oman was in the mix, according to a report from the Kan public broadcaster.
On Monday, Kushner said that Israel made progress trying to normalize ties with other Arab countries by agreeing to the framework laid out in the administration’s January proposal, which included establishing a Palestinian state and giving up land in Israel proper.
“Israel has made a very generous offer for a state and for land swaps and the ball is really in the court of the Palestinians now,” he said. “We welcome them any time to come to the table.”
The Palestinian Authority called Thursday for the UAE to “immediately retract” its agreement to normalize relations with Israel, which it called a “despicable decision.”
PA President Mahmoud Abbas ordered an emergency meeting in response to the agreement, while the PA recalled its ambassador to the UAE in protest over the deal.
Kushner indicated Monday that there was rising frustration in the region over what he said was the Palestinian leadership’s obstruction of their people’s advancement.
“We’re not going to chase the Palestinian leadership,” he said. “Their credibility is just really falling to an all time low and even people who want to help the Palestinians, those people are just saying that you can’t help people who don’t want to help themselves.”
In particularly harsh terms, Kushner said the world was “starting to block out the noise” coming from Palestinian officials, calling their responses “just so predictable and illogical.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.