A senior US State Department official rejected on Saturday the claim made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he discussed the possible annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a meeting between the two on Wednesday.
“I can tell you that there was no annexation plan, full or partial, for any part of the West Bank presented by Israel to the United States during the meeting,” Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker told reporters in an official State Department briefing.
“And that has long been the US government position — that the ultimate disposition of territory is to be determined between the parties,” Schenker added, citing the traditional US support for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Netanyahu, speaking on Thursday at the end of a two-day trip to Portugal where he and Pompeo met, explicitly said that the two discussed the possible annexation plan.
“We discussed the issue of annexation, but we’re not talking about timetables yet. These things are much easier when you have a government,” Netanyahu told reporters at his Lisbon hotel after he met with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa. Israel has had a transitional government since the April elections.
Schenker said that “it was a one-on-one [meeting], but I can tell you I spoke with the secretary.”
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification following Schenker’s comments.
On November 18, Pompeo appeared to pave the way for an Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, and possibly other parts of the West Bank, when he 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.”
Netanyahu in September vowed that if reelected he would immediately annex the Jordan Valley, a swath of land linking the West Bank to Jordan that Israel views as a vital security asset, in what was widely seen as a bid to attract support from right-wing voters.
In recent days, Netanyahu has repeatedly called for a unity government to be formed so that Israel could take the step, citing a supportive US administration which recently said it doesn’t view settlements as “inconsistent with international law.”
His Likud party has even claimed that the premier is only interested in staying in office for an additional six months — a unity coalition negotiation demand — in order to see the promise through.
Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, during the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians want the territory as land for a future state, with East Jerusalem as the capital. Before 1967, the territory was held by Jordan, which didn’t annex it but also didn’t hand it over to the Palestinians.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.