WASHINGTON (JTA) — The White House denied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported claim that the United States and Israel are discussing the annexation of West Bank 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 an email to JTA. “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 statement was unusually forceful for a White House that enjoys a close relationship with the Israeli government.
Hours earlier, Netanyahu had told the Likud faction in the Knesset that he was in “historic” talks with the Trump administration about annexing settlements. Netanyahu delivered the remarks in a bid to stave off individual Knesset members from advancing bills to annex the settlements, saying that such a bill should be government initiated and be timed to solidify U.S. support for annexation.
Within minutes of Raffel releasing his statement, Netanyahu’s office sent a message to Israeli reporters that did not quite walk back his earlier remarks, but that noted that President Donald Trump remained committed to reviving the peace talks.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu updated the Americans about initiatives arising in the Knesset and the Americans expressed their unequivocal position that they are committed to advancing President Trump’s peace plan,” the WhatsApp message said.
Trump has suggested that Israel would have to compromise on settlements and has cautioned Israel against radically altering the current status of the settlements.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is spearheading the bid to restart the peace talks. The Palestinians in December retreated from the “talks to start the talks” after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.