White House denies annexation talks


The White House on Monday denied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that he is in talks with the Trump administration on the annexation of Israeli settlements.

“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.”

Earlier on Monday, at a Likud party meeting, Netanyahu mentioned talks with the U.S. in his defense of a decision to defer a Knesset bill on Israel annexing West Bank settlements.

“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.”

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.

In a recent interview with 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.