Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.
(photo credit: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of his party on Monday that he has been “talking for some time” with the Trump administration about Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, what did he mean?
Taking him literally at what he said, he likely meant that Israel’s top diplomat in Washington, Ron Dermer, has been explaining over the course of months to White House staff the reasoning behind Israel’s current policy in the disputed territory – and its growing political appetite for sovereignty there.
Of course the Israelis have spoken with the Americans about potential annexation of the West Bank, in whole or in part. But that doesn’t mean the Americans have responded affirmatively.
This is the job of any diplomat: to explain, to advocate and when necessary to fight for the positions of their government. In the Trump administration, Israeli diplomats see an American government more amenable and potentially friendly to Netanyahu’s conservative positions. It should come as no surprise then that the Israelis have been gauging White House officials in recent months to see just how far they are willing to go in supporting the growth of Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
If anything is surprising, it is the US administration’s public push back on Monday against the suggestion it has in any way consented to West Bank annexation. President Donald Trump’s peace team demanded Netanyahu walk back his comments, which came just days after Trump in an interview characterized settlement activity as an impediment to peace with the Palestinians.
In response to Netanyahu’s public remarks, critics assumed the administration had privately plotted an Israeli takeover of the coveted territory – convinced that Trump would, in the end, give up on half-hearted peace efforts and heed Netanyahu’s political needs. To the contrary, the White House “peace team”
– led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations – remains adamantly at work on a plan for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations they insist will bring Ramallah back to the table – and demand serious concessions of Jerusalem.
The peace team’s sharp response to Netanyahu was telling of their current thinking. If the White House does not want to be associated with Israeli contingency plans to annex the West Bank, then it stands to reason their plan will oppose Israeli sovereignty there.