WASHINGTON - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he has had talks with the United States about the possibility of annexing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, but in a rare note of discord between the staunch allies, the White House said his claim was false.
“On the subject of applying sovereignty, I can say that I have been talking to the Americans about it for some time,” Netanyahu told a closed-door meeting of lawmakers from his right-wing Likud party.
Settlements stall peace talks
The controversial settlements are in territory claimed by the Palestinians as part of a possible, future Palestinian state, but have been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967. Control of the territory is one several disputes that for decades have stymied efforts by the United States, the Israelis, the Palestinians and others to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
White House spokesman Josh Raffel rebuffed Netanyahu’s claim, 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 [President Donald Trump’s] focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”
Russell Stone, professor emeritus at American University's Center for Israel Studies, told VOA the longer it takes to work toward peace "the larger a problem the settlements will be."
"It’s clear that settlements have been a topic of discussion between Americans and Israelis and within the Israeli political leadership for a long time, and there’s even been discussion between Israeli leadership and Palestinian leadership over it," Stone said. "The current news apparently resulted from a proposed piece of legislation from some right-wing legislators in Israel that will probably go nowhere."
Trump has sought to rejuvenate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, dispatching his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a White House adviser, to the region to gauge the climate for renewed negotiations.
But the U.S. leader has acknowledged the difficulty, as have past American presidents.
Trump has his doubts
In an interview published Sunday in Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper, 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.”
He voiced doubts about the Palestinians and Israelis wanting to reach a peace deal.
“We are going to see what goes on,” he said. “Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace. And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace.”