Senior White House officials were quoted Thursday by an Israeli television network as saying that they intended to green-light Israeli annexation of swaths of West Bank land within months if the Palestinians don’t return to the negotiating table.
According to Channel 13, the sources said they intend to go ahead with the implementation of the peace plan unveiled earlier this year by US President Donald Trump’s administration.
They reportedly stressed that this would happen even if fourth successive Knesset elections are called following another deadlocked vote this week. They added that both contenders for the premiership, the incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu and challenger Benny Gantz, know that Trump’s presidency marks a unique opportunity.
“We will be able to convince them to do the right thing,” they were quoted as saying in the Hebrew-language report.
The Palestinians have rejected the US peace plan, which envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in about 70 percent of the West Bank, a small handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most of Gaza and some areas of southern Israel — if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, disarm Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave, and fulfill other conditions.
The plan allows Israel to annex settlements, grants the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and overriding security control west of the Jordan River, and bars Palestinian refugees from settling in Israel. Israel has welcomed the proposal.
Channel 13 said that Trump adviser Jared Kushner, the plan’s main architect, had told Republican and Democratic senators Wednesday in a closed briefing that the work of the Israeli-American joint team tasked with mapping the exact areas to be annexed would take several more months.
Kushner reportedly said that if Palestinians resume negotiations during that time, the offer could be changed in their favor. If they don’t, he added, the process will continue and “the Palestinians will only be able to blame themselves.”
The White House sources were cited as estimating that Israel would agree to further compromises if the Palestinians come to the negotiating table, in return for normalization with the Arab world.
“Nobody can say we didn’t give the Palestinians an opportunity to return to the negotiating table,” said one of the sources. “If they want to come back and talk we are ready for that and we believe we could improve the plan for them. But if they don’t, we will continue moving ahead without them.”
Last week, the US members of the joint committee met with Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials as they pressed ahead with the project. It had been the first time that the two sides met to work together on deciding which areas Israel will extend sovereignty to, a measure tantamount to annexation.
Asked how soon after the mapping is completed Israel would apply sovereignty, Netanyahu replied, “As far as we are concerned, immediately,” and said he would bring it for cabinet approval right away.
The American members of the joint committee are US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, his adviser Aryeh Lightstone, and C. Scott Leith, senior adviser for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the National Security Council.
Also at the meeting were members of the Israeli mapping committee, Tourism and Immigration Minister Yariv Levin and Acting Director of the Prime Minister’s Office Ronen Peretz.
Netanyahu has said Israel will extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and other areas of the West Bank only with the agreement of Washington. Washington has said that Israel must hold off on annexing areas of the West Bank until the committee concludes its work, which could take weeks or months.