Report: US tells Netanyahu it opposes immediate unilateral annexation

Report: US tells Netanyahu it opposes immediate unilateral annexation

Administration said hoping for Arab support for its peace proposal, fears one-sided action by Jerusalem will rule out such backing

US President Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives for a meeting on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, January 27, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives for a meeting on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, January 27, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Israeli leaders have vowed in recent days to follow up on the Trump peace plan expected to be revealed later Tuesday by annexing part of the West Bank, but some officials in Israel and the US are reportedly working to dampen that enthusiasm.

The White House has quietly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it is opposed to immediate annexation of any part of the West Bank or Jordan Valley, Israel’s Channel 13 television news reported Tuesday, citing three unnamed American and Israeli officials.

The officials said the White House was hoping to win support for the peace plan from as many Arab governments as possible, and an Israeli annexation move could prevent Arab governments from appearing to support the plan.

Israel is also in the midst of an election campaign. The Channel 13 report said that Netanyahu’s main rival, Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz, told Trump during their meeting Monday at the White House that the plan should not be implemented until after election day on March 2.

The officials said the White House is also hoping to give Palestinians, who vehemently oppose the plan, some time to consider its details and possibly come around to supporting it.

The Jordan Valley. (CC BY Trocaire, Flickr)

If true, this would suggest that the White House could pressure Israel to delay annexation by quite some time. The Trump administration is reportedly calculating that the Palestinians will wait to see if the Republican incumbent wins reelection in 2020 before deciding whether to accept his plan in any form. If Trump returns to the White House, the administration reportedly believes, then Palestinians will become more willing to consider the plan rather than face four more years of frozen relations with Washington.

The White House was reportedly also concerned at the response of Jordan’s King Abdullah II to an Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, which the king has already warned could lead to the cancellation of the kingdom’s 1994 peace treaty with the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, one Israeli journalist close to the Netanyahu government, Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahana, reported the opposite on Tuesday, citing an unnamed “administration official” who reportedly said Trump would give Netanyahu an immediate “green light to annex.”

“From that moment, it will all be in Netanyahu’s hands, with the administration expecting him to immediately begin annexation,” Kahana said in a tweet.

An outspoken right-wing advocate, Kahana has repeatedly urged Netanyahu to annex parts of the West Bank before March 2, before “a historic chance could be lost.”

US President Donald Trump meets with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the White House in Washington on January 27, 2020. (Elad Malka)

The unveiling Tuesday of Trump’s long-awaited peace plan, whose timing was announced last week, has been criticized in Israel as an attempt to rescue Netanyahu from the immunity proceedings.

The plan will be unveiled at 12 p.m. in Washington (7 p.m. in Israel).

Trump, who met both Netanyahu and Gantz on Monday, alluded to the unprecedented political deadlock in Israel that has seen three elections in 11 months.

“As you know, they’re two good competitors. They’re fighting it out,” Trump said of Netanyahu and Gantz. “This is the third election. We keep waiting and waiting and waiting,” he added, referring to the ongoing stalemate. “What kind of system is that? Very strange system you have there. We have been talking about this for many months. So this system has to be looked at.”

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Trump again at the White House on Tuesday for the unveiling of the administration’s plan. The two leaders will deliver joint remarks for 35 minutes. Later Tuesday, Trump, who is immersed in his own impeachment proceedings, is headed to New Jersey for a campaign rally.

US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, January 27, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

“Peace in the Middle East has been long sought, for many, many years and decades and centuries. This is an opportunity. We’ll see what happens. Whatever it is, it is,” Trump said Monday in the White House Rose Garden, standing next to Netanyahu.

“Tomorrow at 12 o’clock, we’re going to show a plan, it’s been worked on by everybody,” he added. “And we’ll see whether or not it catches hold. If it does, that would be great. And if it doesn’t, we’re going to have to live with that too. But I think that it might have a chance.”

According to the Reuters news agency, citing a US official, Trump will reportedly tell Netanyahu and Gantz that they have until the Knesset elections to work on the administration’s plan, potentially throwing the high-stakes diplomatic gambit into Israel’s domestic political stew.

“You have six weeks to get this [plan] going, if you want it,” the unnamed official claimed Trump would say.

The plan is reportedly very pro-Israel and the Palestinian leadership has already rejected it.

According to unconfirmed reports in Hebrew media, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has also instructed Palestinian security not to stop protesters from confronting Israeli forces in the West Bank as the US releases the plan.

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