U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman did not rule out an Israeli move to annex parts of Yehudah and Shomron, in an interview with The New York Times published on Saturday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in the run-up to an April election that he plans to annex Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron, a move bound to trigger widespread international condemnation and complicate peace efforts.
The Times said that Friedman had declined to say how Washington would respond to annexation, but remarked: “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves.
“These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge,” Friedman said.
The White House has been working on a proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, dubbed by President Donald Trump as “the deal of the century,” but has not disclosed any of its details.
Friedman said that, under certain circumstances, “Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
It was unclear which areas Friedman meant and whether Israel’s retention would be part of a peace accord that includes land swaps – an idea floated in past negotiations – rather than a unilateral move such as annexation.
The Trump plan had been expected to be unveiled during an economic conference in Bahrain this month. But the election in Israel, set for Sept. 17, is likely to delay the rollout.
Responding to Friedman’s interview, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat tweeted: “Their vision is about annexation of occupied territory, a war crime under international law.”
The Palestinian leadership has refused to deal with the Trump administration since it recognized Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital.
In March, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory that Israel liberated from Syria in 1967 and later annexed.
Netanyahu told Army Radio in April that Trump’s Golan step showed it was possible to annex communities in Yehudah and Shomron “within a gradual process and I prefer to do so with American recognition.”
He added, “I have been discussing the question of extending sovereignty with the Americans for the past six months.”
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “No plan for unilateral annexation by Israel of any portion of the West Bank has been presented by Israel to the U.S., nor is it under discussion.”