The White House denied a claim by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that he had discussed an initiative with the Trump administration to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
White House spokesperson Josh Raffel said, “Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false. The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the President’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”
On Monday afternoon, Netanyahu said he had been in talks with the American administration “for some time” on applying Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements.
Speaking at a Likud party faction meeting, Netanyahu said, “On the subject of applying the Sovereignty Law, I can tell you that for some time now, I have been holding talks on the subject with the Americans,” according to a spokesman for Coalition Chairman David Amsalem.
But a statement only hours later appeared to say the American government pushed back on the idea.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu updated the Americans on the initiatives brought up in the Knesset, and the Americans expressed their unequivocal position by which they are committed to advancing President Trump’s peace plan,” the statement read.
Moments later, the White House denied any such talks had ever taken place.
The Sovereignty Law, backed by the right-wing Land of Israel Lobby, would annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
David Keyes, spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, told CNN he was unaware if any “concrete proposal had been discussed.”
Many right-wing Israeli politicians saw under President Donald Trump a chance to advance plans to annex part or all of the West Bank into Israel. Though such a move would outrage virtually every other government, Israel’s right believed Trump could provide Israel political and diplomatic cover, blocking any attempts to sanction Israel at the United Nations were annexation to proceed.
In an interview published in Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom on Sunday, Trump said Israel had to “be very careful” with settlements.
“The settlements are something that very much complicates, and always have complicated, making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements,” Trump was quoted as saying, hewing to the position of previous US administrations that settlements are an obstacle to peace.
Trump, who said in the interview that neither Israelis nor Palestinians “are looking to make peace,” hedged on expectations for the White House peace plan, which has been dubbed the “Ultimate Deal.”
“We are going to see what goes on,” Trump told Israel Hayom.
Monday’s announcement by Netanyahu was met with derision by Palestinian Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.
“Netanyahu’s latest statement is a continuation of Israel’s policy of dictations, as well as it confirms US complicity with Israeli colonial plans,” Erekat said in a statement.
“This is a confirmation that final status issues are being unilaterally decided upon by Israel in coordination with the US administration,” he added. “The Israeli-US coordination is not about achieving a just and lasting peace but about legitimizing Israeli violations of International law and UN resolutions.”
Settlements are considered a violation under international law, as reaffirmed in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, passed in the waning days of the Obama administration. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that if the resolution had been introduced under the Trump administration, the US would have cast its veto, blocking the resolution from passing.