UN warns of 'devastating' consequence for chances of peace

US says peace deal still possible if Israel annexes settlements, Jordan Valley

Despite Netanyahu’s election-eve vow, White House official says there’s ‘no change in United States policy at this time’

US President Donald Trump, left, welcomes visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
US President Donald Trump, left, welcomes visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to annex the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements would not foreclose the possibility of a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if enacted.

A source familiar with the administration’s thinking told The Times of Israel that the United States was “informed of this announcement before it was made.” Trump’s team, the source went on, said they “do not think it precludes the possibility of a political settlement in the future.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu promised in a campaign pitch to immediately apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, almost a quarter of the West Bank, if he scraps together a new government after the election next week — in a move that is widely seen as an attempt to shore up his right-wing base.

The Israeli premier also repeated his pledge to annex all the West Bank settlements, but said this would only be done in a spirit of “maximal coordination” with the Trump administration.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a map of the Jordan Valley, vowing to extend Israeli sovereignty there if re-elected, during a speech in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Many in the international community strongly condemned his announcement, suggesting it would kill any hope for the eventual emergence of a Palestinian state.

The United Nations said that annexation would have no “international legal effect” but would hurt the prospects for peace. “The secretary-general’s position has always been clear: unilateral actions are not helpful in the peace process,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace, and the very essence of a two-state solution.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The White House, for its part, did not issue a warning, nor did it say that Netanyahu’s pledges would change American policy.

“There is no change in United States policy at this time,” a senior administration official told The Times of Israel. “We will release our Vision for Peace after the Israeli election and work to determine the best path forward to bring long sought security, opportunity and stability to the region.”

Washington has been saying for months that it will release the political component of its highly anticipated peace plan after a government is formed following Israel’s September 17 elections.

Last week, the architect of the Trump plan, special Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt, said he would be resigning shortly after publication of the proposal.

That announcement left some veteran Israeli-Palestinian negotiators befuddled over what it conveyed about the administration’s confidence in its own plan. “You pull out a core member, perhaps the core member at the working level — it speaks to the absence of seriousness and credibility,” said Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official.

The liberal Zionist group J Street strongly castigated Netanyahu’s pledge to annex much of the West Bank Tuesday, and said that he was seeking Trump’s approval to carry out a reactionary agenda.

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

“Prime Minister Netanyahu made absolutely clear today that, if re-elected next week, he plans to annex large portions of the West Bank, make the occupation permanent and condemn millions of Palestinians to a future of living under unending Israeli rule, without basic civil rights or self-determination, the group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.
“These actions would destroy Israeli democracy and constitute a flagrant violation of international law.”

Ben-Ami encouraged US House leadership to pass a resolution that unequivocally opposes unilateral Israeli annexation of any territory within the West Bank and reaffirms its support for a two-state outcome to the conflict.

“Responsible lawmakers and presidential candidates must also make clear that they will not give the Israeli government a blank check to violate US interests and democratic values,” he said. “They must make clear that annexation of any portion of the West Bank will lead to major consequences for the future of the US-Israel relationship.”

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