TEL AVIV – The Trump administration on Monday issued a denial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the U.S. and Israel were in discussions regarding the annexation of West Bank settlements, prompting the Israeli leader to walk back his remarks.
“Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false,” White House spokesman Josh Raffel said in a statement. “The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”
At a Likud party meeting earlier in the day, Netanyahu seemingly made it sound as if he was in talks with the Trump administration regarding a “historic” move to annex parts of Area C in the West Bank.
“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.”
After the White House issued its rebuke, Netanyahu’s office immediately issued a clarification that he had simply “updated the Americans on initiatives being presented in the Knesset.”
The issue marks a rare clash between Washington and Jerusalem since President Donald Trump took office.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not present the U.S. administration with specific proposals for West Bank annexation,” an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said before the White House issued its statement. He added that the U.S. “did not express support for the proposals.”
The official outlined Netanyahu’s position as “if the Palestinians continue to refuse negotiating peace — Israel will present its own alternatives.”
On Sunday, Netanyahu requested that the vote on the so-called “sovereignty bill,” which would see Israeli law enacted in parts of the West Bank, be delayed in light of Saturday’s clashes with Syria.
In an interview published Sunday with the Sheldon Adelson-owned Israel Hayom daily, Trump said, “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 also questioned whether Israel or the Palestinians were seriously committed to peace.