US official urges Netanyahu to keep alive chance of Palestinian state

Amid annexation talk, top Middle East diplomat says Jerusalem should not take steps that would negate parts of the Trump administration’s peace plan

David Schenker, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, in Beirut, Lebanon, on September 9, 2019. (Hussein Malla/AP)
David Schenker, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, in Beirut, Lebanon, on September 9, 2019. (Hussein Malla/AP)

WASHINGTON — The United States has asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep alive the prospect of a Palestinian state as he considers West Bank annexation, a senior official said Thursday.

Netanyahu’s government had set July 1 as the date when it could begin unilaterally annexing the 30 percent of the West Bank allocated to Israel in the “Peace to Prosperity” plan outlined in January by US President Donald Trump.

Trump’s plan also lays out the grounds for an independent Palestinian state, although it would be demilitarized and its capital would not be inside the contested holy city of Jerusalem.

David Schenker, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, said that Netanyahu was facing domestic pressure as some of his supporters “want annexation but aren’t particularly enamored of the vision for peace that calls for a Palestinian state as well.”

“So we’re calling on the Israelis not to do anything that would preclude the implementation of the vision,” Schenker said at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the area where a new neighborhood is to be built in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, on February 20, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool Photo via AP, File)

He added he was unsure if Netanyahu would ultimately go ahead with annexation as he assesses the impact it would have.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t see anything, but I think that the prime minister would like to do something,” Schenker said.

Trump’s administration, whose evangelical base is strongly pro-Israel, has publicly said that it is up to Israel to decide on annexation, though behind the scenes has been reported to be far more reserved.

Schenker said Israel was aware of the threat of repercussions from European powers as well as strong objections from friendly Arab states.

The Palestinian Authority has rejected the Trump plan, accusing the administration of bias and of trying to buy off the Palestinians through promises of future investment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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