Amid Annexation Talk, U.S. Official Tells Haaretz: Trump Expects Israel to Act Reasonably on Palestinian Issue

Israel should give the U.S. time to consider the best way to move forward with the peace process, U.S. official says after Lieberman tells Knesset committee Washington warned Israel against West Bank annexation.

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In this photo taken July 11, 2016, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to a question during an interview in Virginia Beach, Va.
In this photo taken July 11, 2016, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to a question during an interview in Virginia Beach, Va. Credit: Steve Helber / AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

U.S. President Donald Trump expects Israel to act "reasonably" regarding the Palestinian issue and allow the U.S. enough time to hold consultations on the best path toward advancing the peace process, a senior U.S. official told Haaretz on Monday, after the Israeli defense chief said the U.S. warned Israel that annexation of the West Bank would lead to a crisis in its relations with Washington.

The American official didn't deny Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's remarks at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and stressed that the Trump administration is aware of the Israeli official's statements. "We are not going to speak publicly about the details of private communications between governments," the official said. 

However, he clarified that the U.S. is indeed not interested at this time in unilateral moves by either Israel or the Palestinians that could damage American efforts to reignite peace talks. 

"President Trump is committed to working with Israel and the Palestinians on a comprehensive peace deal that will allow both sides to live in the peace and security they deserve," the official said. 

"The administration needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward. We are just getting that process started. As the president has said, he would like to see a 'level of reasonableness of both parties,'" the official added. 

Lieberman told lawmakers on Monday that Israel received a direct message from the U.S. to the effect that  "imposing Israeli sovereignty [on the West Bank] would mean an immediate crisis with the new administration." "The coalition should clearly state that there is no intention to impose [Israeli] sovereignty.

The defense chief referred to recent calls by lawmakers, including by Miki Zohar (Likud), a member of the governing coalition, to annex the West Bank. "The two-state solution is dead," Zohar told news channel i24 on Sunday, while insisting that the one-state alternative would be democratic even though Palestinians would not automatically be allowed to vote in elections.

 Lieberman will board a flight to the United States on Monday night for a meeting with officials in the Trump administration. The defense chief is scheduled to meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, his American counterpart Gen. James Mattis, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior figures.

Two months after Trump took office, the new administration learning its ways on foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump prioritized the issue, and even put his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his close adviser Jason Greenblatt in charge of the peace process. However, the Americans still haven't decided how to move forward and are looking into several routes, including a regional peace initiative that includes the Arab states.

During Netanyahu's meeting with Trump in Washington in February, the president demanded that Israel curb settlement construction for a limited period. Netanyahu voiced readiness to examine that possibility, and Israel and the U.S. appointed a joint team to try and reach an understanding on the matter. The Israeli side includes Ambassador Ron Dermer and the American side includes Greenblatt. A senior Israeli official noted that Greenblatt may even fly to Israel on his first official visit on March. 

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