Opposition MKs slam Netanyahu for ‘lying’ about annexation talks with the US
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Opposition MKs slam Netanyahu for ‘lying’ about annexation talks with the US

'An evening in which the White House says, in an official announcement, that our prime minister does not tell the truth is a sad evening,' says Labor leader Gabbay

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on February 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Jim Hollander)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on February 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Jim Hollander)

Opposition lawmakers chided and mocked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening, after he had to walk back his assertion that he had been in talks with the Trump administration on a “historic” initiative to annex Israeli settlements — and the White House flatly denied the claim as “false.”

“Over the course of the day, we were treated to ‘classic Bibi,'” said Zionist Union lawmaker Tzipi Livni. “Afraid of telling the Israeli public that annexation would be a disaster, hiding under the US apron — which made it clear that he had lied, and all this because he is a prisoner of Smotrich and his base,” she said, referring to the hard-right Jewish Home lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich.

“Instead of getting involved with the US in lies, the head of a responsible government should mobilize the Americans to deal with Iran and Syria,” she concluded.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon struck a similar tone. “The truth is that it’s amazing,” she tweeted.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni speaks at a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 22, 2018. (Flash90)

“The prime minister is caught lying to the public about the negotiations (with the US) and no one even gets excited about it anymore. The man has been prime minister since 2009 and there is not one person who knows his position on the most critical and explosive issue facing this country,” she added referring to Netanyahu’s views on the future of the West Bank.

While he has expressed support for the two-state solution in the past, namely in the address he gave at Bar Ilan University in 2009, Netanyahu has also downplayed his support for the proposal more recently, substantially increased settlement building in the past year, and, in August, vowed not evacuate a single settlement in any peace deal.

Earlier Monday, the prime minister announced at a Likud faction meeting that he had been in talks with the White House on a “historic” initiative to annex Israeli settlement areas in the West Bank. “I’m guided by two principles in this issue… optimal coordination with the Americans, whose relationship with us is a strategic asset for Israel and the settlement movement; and the fact that it must be a government initiative rather than a private one because it would be a historic move,” he added then.

Meretz party leader MK Zehava Galon speaks to thousands of left-wing activists during a rally in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, May 27, 2017. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

However, a senior diplomatic official later clarified that Netanyahu had not actually presented the Trump administration with specific proposals to annex the West Bank.

The official explained that since nothing formal was presented, the US “did not express support for the proposals.”

The official added that “Israel updated the US on various proposals that are being brought up in the Knesset, and the US expressed its clear position that it hopes to present [US] President [Donald] Trump’s peace plan.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position is that if the Palestinians continue to refuse negotiating peace — Israel will present its own alternatives,” the official added.

A White House spokesman also categorically denied Netanyahu’s comments, saying  “reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false.”

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay was less amused by the saga than some of his other colleagues in the opposition were.

Newly elected leader of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, with outgoing chairman Isaac Herzog at a press conference on July 12, 2017. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90)

“It is a sad evening for Israel,” he tweeted. “An evening in which the White House says, in an official announcement, that our prime minister does not tell the truth is a sad evening.”

“It’s not just corruption. Netanyahu is weakening Israel with our great ally. After nine years of Netanyahu, Israel needs honest leadership that says the truth. After nine years of Netanyahu, Israel wants a new change and hope,” Gabbay concluded.

Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) struck a similar tone, saying Netanyahu was “playing with fire” in his talk of annexation.

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