The White House opposes Israel applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley before the release of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, according to a television report Wednesday that suggested the administration may not take issue with such a move down the road.
The United States is against any unilateral Israeli measures in the West Bank before publication of US President Donald Trump’s peace proposal, White House officials told Channel 13 news.
“The Israeli government is completely aware of this [position],” the officials were quoted saying.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday voiced support for a Knesset vote in the coming weeks to apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, hours after his Blue and White rival Benny Gantz said he would extend sovereignty over the area “in coordination with the international community” following the March 2 elections.
Netanyahu, who called for applying Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley shortly before elections in September, has previously suggested the Trump administration may not oppose such a move.
After meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month, Netanyahu said the two discussed Israel’s possible annexation of the Jordan Valley. He declared that Israel had the “full right” to do so but stressed, however, that such a move was impossible during a period in which there is only a transitional government.
A senior State Department official denied that Netanyahu presented any annexation plan to Pompeo during the meeting. The prime minister later said it was true no formal plan was discussed, but insisted he raised the matter with Pompeo.
The US has not explicitly rejected a possible Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, though it has also not said it would support such a move.
The overwhelming majority of the international community has long opposed Israel applying its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and has called for the advancement of a two-state solution.
Netanyahu toured the area last year with Trump’s then national security adviser John Bolton and David Friedman, the US ambassador to Jerusalem, during which time he said Israel should maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley under any peace deal.
Friedman said last year that Israel has a “right” to retain some parts of the West Bank and in November, Pompeo declared that the administration would no longer consider Israeli settlements as necessarily illegal, repudiating a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that they were “inconsistent with international law.”
The Trump administration has not given a timetable on when it will roll out its peace plan, but speculation has grown in Israel that its release could be imminent.
After previously opposing its release before the upcoming elections, Gantz said Tuesday he expected the plan will soon be published and urged Trump to move up its release.
It was not immediately clear what led to Gantz’s reversal. The plan is expected to heavily favor Israel’s views on a final peace settlement with the Palestinians, and its pre-election release is widely seen in Israel as a move by Trump to help Netanyahu’s reelection prospects.
One report Tuesday on the Walla news site claimed Gantz had faced pressure, including “angry” messages, from the Trump administration after expressing his opposition to the release ahead of the Israeli elections.
His comments against it came at a televised meeting of Blue and White’s Knesset faction earlier this month, shortly after a meeting between Gantz and Trump’s new peace envoy Avi Berkowitz.
“The Americans were very angry that his declaration was made publicly,” Blue and White sources told Walla.
Trump’s special adviser Jared Kushner, the architect of the US peace plan, was due in Israel Wednesday to attend the World Holocaust Forum, and is expected to meet with both Netanyahu and Gantz.