WASHINGTON — A majority of Republican members of the House of Representatives have signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsing Israeli annexation of settlements in the West Bank.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California was one of 116 of the 198 Republican House members signed the letter. It praises the Middle East plan presented by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, and blames the Palestinian leadership for choosing to reject it. It also says that its signatories support Israel’s “right to sovereignty and defensible borders.”
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The Trump plan includes Israeli annexation of as much as 30% of the West Bank, including all the settlements.
The letter was promoted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, which stated two weeks ago that it will promote support for annexation among elected Republicans. Despite the letter's support from the RJC, the party's congressional leadership and potentially the Trump administration as well, approximately 80 House Republicans did not sign it.
At the same time, more than 170 House Democrats have signed a letter opposing annexation, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The letter is still being circulated on Capitol Hill, and the final number of signatures could be close to 200. Several Democrats who are considered close to AIPAC, the influential pro-Israeli lobby group, have also signed.
The Trump administration is planning to hold a series of policy discussions on annexation this week, in which they hope to reach a final decision on the issue. Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, flew to Washington to attend the meetings. Friedman will fly to Israel after the meetings, together with Avi Berkowitz, the White House official who has led the work on the Middle East plan in recent months.
The administration is discussing several options with Israel, including a gradual annexation process in several installments. This option could be easier for the administration to present to allies in the Arab world who are concerned about annexation and have spoken out against it. Instead of Israel immediately annexing all the settlements, under this kind of plan, it would begin with annexing specific settlements or areas.
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A gradual process would likely mean that territory not yet annexed before the November U.S. election will not be annexed until after the results of the vote come in. If Trump wins another term in the White House, the process would continue, whereas if former Vice President Joe Biden would win, Israel would not move forward with it.