Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said that the U.S. administration had asked him to give up on annexation of parts of the West Bank in exchange for normalization with the United Arab Emirates, saying "It's not that they had given me a choice."
Netanyahu told Army Radio that annexation could not be carried out without the approval of the U.S., and that Washington had asked him to temporarily suspend annexation. Annexation, he said, remained part of the White House's Mideast plan.
The prime minister also said that the agreement disproved "the idea that we need to uproot communities or else we won't get an official agreement with an Arab nation."
Settler leaders have blasted the normalization agreement because of the suspension of annexation, a move that Netanyahu promised while running for reelection. But a solid majority of the public prefers normalization to annexation, according to a public opinion poll published Sunday by Channel 12 News. According to the poll, given the choice between normalization with the UAE and West Bank annexation, more than 75 percent of Israelis would prefer the UAE deal. Also, more than 85 percent said the announcement wouldn’t change their vote in a potential election.
A majority, 61.4 percent of respondents, said Netanyahu agreeing to suspend was a violation of a key election campaign promise. According to the survey, 76.7 percent of Israelis would prefer the UAE deal over annexation, while only 16.5 percent would prefer annexation. Another 3.1 percent said they had no preference.
Earlier on Sunday Netanyahu, who has insisted the annexation plans are only on "temporary hold," said in a video statement: "According to the Palestinians, and to many others in the world who agreed with them, peace can't be reached without conceding to the Palestinians' demands, including uprooting settlements, dividing Jerusalem and withdrawal to 1967 lines. No more. This concept of 'peace through withdrawal and weakness' has passed from the world."
The Palestinians want the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for their hoped-for state, and peacemaking with them since the 1990s has been based on withdrawal from those lands to make way for a Palestinian homeland. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Six-Day War, although it withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.
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Also Sunday, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Bahrain and Oman could be the next Gulf countries to normalize ties with Israel.
"In the wake of this agreement will come additional agreements, both with more Gulf countries and with Muslim countries in Africa," Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Army Radio.
"I think that Bahrain and Oman are definitely on the agenda. In addition, in my assessment, there is a chance that already in the coming year there will be a peace deal with additional countries in Africa, chief among them, Sudan," he said.
"I expect more countries will be joining us in the peace circle," Netanyahu told cabinet ministers on Sunday, according to a statement from his office.
"This is a historic change which advances peace with the Arab world and will eventually advance a real, sober and secure peace with the Palestinians," he said.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.