Loom­ing con­tra­dic­tions

Ne­tanyahu says he dis­cussed an­nex­ing set­tle­ments with US; White House de­nies

Global Times - - World -

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Mon­day he has dis­cussed leg­is­la­tion with the US that would an­nex set­tle­ments in the oc­cu­pied West Bank, but the White House de­nied it in a rare show of dis­unity. Ne­tanyahu later is­sued a clar­i­fi­ca­tion some­what back­ing away from the deeply con­tro­ver­sial state­ment. An­nex­ing set­tle­ments would se­verely dam­age re­main­ing prospects for a twostate so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict and draw in­ter­na­tional out­rage, but Ne­tanyahu has been un­der heavy po­lit­i­cal pres­sure to sup­port it. “Re­gard­ing the is­sue of ap­ply­ing sovereignty, I can tell you that I have for some time been speak­ing with the Amer­i­cans about it,” Ne­tanyahu told law­mak­ers from his Likud party, ac­cord­ing to com­ments re­layed by a spokesper­son. Ne­tanyahu said he wanted to co­or­di­nate any such “his­toric” move with the US be­cause of the coun­try’s strate­gic im­por­tance to Is­rael, his spokesper­son said. Some Is­raeli me­dia in­ter­preted the com­ments as the first time Ne­tanyahu ex­pressed sup­port for an­nex­ing the set­tle­ments. But when it be­came clear that the White House was not con­firm­ing the re­marks, Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice is­sued a clar­i­fi­ca­tion.

Ne­tanyahu “did not present the US with spe­cific an­nex­a­tion pro­pos­als, and in any case the United States did not give its con­sent to the pro­pos­als,” an Is­raeli of­fi­cial said on con­di­tion of anonymity.

“Is­rael up­dated the US on var­i­ous pro­pos­als raised in the [par­lia­ment], and the US ex­pressed its clear po­si­tion that it seeks to ad­vance Pres­i­dent Trump’s peace plan.”

The of­fi­cial added that Ne­tanyahu’s po­si­tion “is that if the Pales­tini­ans per­sist in their re­fusal to ne­go­ti­ate peace, Is­rael will present its own al­ter­na­tives.”

White House spokesper­son Josh Raf­fel said “re­ports that the United States dis­cussed with Is­rael an an­nex­a­tion plan for the West Bank are false.”

“The US and Is­rael have never dis­cussed such a pro­posal, and the pres­i­dent’s fo­cus re­mains squarely on his Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace initiative.”

Saeb Erekat, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion, had con­demned Ne­tanyahu’s ear­lier re­marks as amount­ing to “land theft” with US com­plic­ity.

A spokesper­son for Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mahmud Ab­bas warned such mea­sures could only “lead to more ten­sion and in­sta­bil­ity.”

“They will elim­i­nate all in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to save the po­lit­i­cal process,” said Na­bil Abu Rudeina.

Lim­its to back­ing?

Ne­tanyahu faces pres­sure from right-wing politi­cians to move ahead with leg­is­la­tion that would ap­ply Is­raeli sovereignty to set­tle­ments in the West Bank.

Two law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing one from Ne­tanyahu’s party, have pro­posed such leg­is­la­tion.

Ne­tanyahu blocked it from be­ing ad­vanced on Sun­day, with of­fi­cials cit­ing the need to fo­cus on

se­cu­rity is­sues fol­low­ing a con­fronta­tion that led to Is­raeli air strikes in Syria at the week­end.

Is­rael has sought to take ad­van­tage of Trump’s strong sup­port, high­lighted by his recog­ni­tion of Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal in De­cem­ber, called “his­toric” by Ne­tanyahu but de­nounced by the Pales­tini­ans and most of the rest of the world.

Mon­day’s episode showed there may be lim­its to Trump’s back­ing as he pledges to reach what he calls the “ul­ti­mate deal” – Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace.

In­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus

While Is­rael would ex­pect to re­tain cer­tain set­tle­ments in any two-state peace deal, long­stand­ing in­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus has been that their sta­tus must be ne­go­ti­ated.

The same con­sen­sus has been in place for decades re­gard­ing the sta­tus of Jerusalem, with the Pales­tini­ans want­ing the Is­raeli-an­nexed east­ern sec­tor of the city as the cap­i­tal of their fu­ture state.

Is­raeli set­tle­ments are lo­cated in what is known as Area C of the West Bank, which ac­counts for more than 60 per­cent of the Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory.

An­nex­ing all set­tle­ments would leave lit­tle space for a Pales­tinian state.

Ne­tanyahu heads what is seen as the most right-wing gov­ern­ment in Is­raeli his­tory, and prom­i­nent min­is­ters openly op­pose a Pales­tinian state.

Those who op­pose a Pales­tinian state ad­vo­cate for Is­rael to an­nex most of the West Bank, cit­ing Jews’ his­tor­i­cal ties to the land from the bib­li­cal era.

Ne­tanyahu says he wants the Pales­tini­ans to gov­ern them­selves, but in re­cent months has de­clined to spec­ify whether that would mean an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state or some lesser form of au­ton­omy.

He has stressed re­cently that Is­rael must re­tain se­cu­rity con­trol in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries un­der any peace ar­range­ment.

While Trump has of­fered strong sup­port of Is­rael, he said in an in­ter­view pub­lished Sun­day that he was “not nec­es­sar­ily sure” the coun­try was seek­ing to reach a peace agree­ment with the Pales­tini­ans.

“Right now, I would say the Pales­tini­ans are not look­ing to make peace,” Trump said in the in­ter­view with right-wing Is­raeli pa­per Is­rael Hayom.

“And I am not nec­es­sar­ily sure that Is­rael is look­ing to make peace.”

In a rare re­buke, he also said Is­raeli set­tle­ment build­ing “com­pli­cates” peace ef­forts.

Separately, Ab­bas met Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Mon­day.

Putin said at the start of the talks that he “just spoke” with Trump on the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

Photo: AFP

A Pales­tinian pro­tes­tor looks on dur­ing clashes with Is­raeli forces fol­low­ing a demon­stra­tion near the Hawara check­point, south of the West Bank city of Nablus, on Fri­day.

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