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UK warned it would recognize Palestine if Israel annexed West Bank, book reveals

Weeks before Netanyahu’s July 2020 target for controversial move, British envoy to US surprised American counterparts with threat, said it would lead to others following suit

British Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Elizabeth Pierce listens to speakers during a meeting on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
British Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Elizabeth Pierce listens to speakers during a meeting on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

The United Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States warned the Trump administration in June 2020 that if Israel went forward with plans to annex large parts of the West Bank, London would officially recognize the State of Palestine, a new book has revealed.

The message was passed along by Karen Pierce in a meeting she held with then-US president Donald Trump’s Mideast peace envoy Avi Berkowitz and Iran special envoy Brian Hook on June 12, 2020, Israeli journalist Barak Ravid wrote in his book “Trump’s Peace.”

Berkowitz and Hook were dispatched to meet with Pierce by then-senior White House adviser Jared Kushner. While the Trump administration was being inundated by calls from world leaders warning the US against allowing then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to go forward with plans to begin annexing parts of the West Bank on July 1, 2020, it was the response from the UK that went further and was most surprising to the Americans, the book claimed.

Ravid speculated that the UK recognizing Palestine would likely have led other countries in Europe such as France and Spain to do the same — a domino effect of legitimacy for the Palestinian Authority that Israel has long feared.

Netanyahu announced his plans to annex large parts of the West Bank at the start of 2020, ostensibly under the auspices of the Trump peace plan — though Ravid has reported that the administration was caught off guard by the move and strongly opposed it.

The book suggests that while Kushner was not supportive of the annexation move, the feeling in the administration at the time was that there was no way to stop Netanyahu from carrying it out.

A day before his meeting with Pierce, Berkowitz met with a group of senior German diplomats who expressed their utter opposition to the annexation plan. “I told them, go to the Palestinians and tell them that annexation is advancing. Ask them what they want us to try and get for them in exchange,” Berkowitz recalled in Ravid’s book.

Ramallah had severed its ties with Washington years earlier following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Illustrative: Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event with then-US president Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, January 28, 2020, to announce the Trump administration’s much-anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Ravid’s book revealed the extent to which Trump opposed Netanyahu’s annexation plans.

According to Ravid, Trump’s ambassador to Israel David Friedman had encouraged the Netanyahu government to annex parts of the West Bank, without running the plan by the president or Kushner — both of whom were opposed to the idea.

Trump’s Peace, by Barak Ravid

With Friedman’s support in mind, Netanyahu announced his annexation plans at the unveiling ceremony for Trump’s peace plan at the White House in January 2020.

Trump and the peace plan’s architect, Kushner, were caught completely off guard by Netanyahu’s declaration, the book said.

The Trump peace plan did envision Israel annexing all of its settlements along with the Jordan Valley as part of a final status agreement. But it did not give a clear timeline, and it did not stipulate that the move would take place right off the bat, as Netanyahu planned to do.

Annexation never came to be. In the days and weeks that followed, US negotiations with the United Arab Emirates would advance in a way that allowed Kushner to offer Israel normalization with the UAE in exchange for Netanyahu shelving his annexation plans — an offer the ex-premier ultimately accepted.

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