JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON—A senior Israeli official clarified that no specific proposals had been presented to the United States to annex Judea and Samaria, just hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had been talking with the American for some time “on the matter of applying the sovereignty law.”
“I can tell you that for a while now I’ve been talking about it with the Americans,” Netanyahu said. “I’m guided by two principles in this issue…optimal coordination with the Americans, whose relationship with us is a strategic asset for Israel and the settlement movement, and the fact that it must be a government initiative rather than a private one because it would be a historic move.”
White House spokesman, Joseh Raffel, also denied that any such talks had taken place, saying: “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.”
The White House’s statement prompted the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office to issue a clarification of Netanyahu’s comments, explaining that the issue of annexation had only been raised as part of a conversation the prime minister had with the Trump administration about legislative initiatives in Israel.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu updated the Americans with regard to legislative initiatives in the Knesset. The U.S. expressed its unequivocal position that they were committed to advancing U.S. President [Donald] Trump’s peace plan,” stated the Prime Minister’s Office.
But Israeli Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin said Tuesday that Israel should apply Israeli law to Judea and Samaria, regardless of the United States position on the matter.
Elkin told the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference that the issue of whether or not talks on annexation have taken place between Netanyahu and the Trump administration is not important and that the focus should be whether or not applying sovereignty to Judea and Samaria is an Israeli interest.
He added: “I think that the discourse surrounding this issue is focusing on the wrong question,” Elkin said. “It doesn’t really interest me whether or not the issue was brought up with the Americans. I think we should be focused on two questions: One, is applying Israeli sovereignty throughout Judea and Samaria is a vital interest of the State of Israel, to which I say unequivocally, yes. And the second question is, should we be promoting [annexation]despite the objection of the international community, to which I also unequivocally answer, yes.”
In a recent interview with daily Israel Hayom, Trump said that he believes Israeli 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.”
Nevertheless, the Trump administration has been far less critical of Israel’s settlement enterprise than the preceding Obama administration, which regularly lambasted the Jewish state on settlement construction and in its waning days refused to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
In the interview, President Trump said that he is “not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace”. Trump also said that “Israel has to be very careful with the settlements,” adding that they have “always complicated making peace
JNS and TPS contributed to this report.