Trump Admin Refuses to Discuss Netanyahu's Remarks on Annexing West Bank

Pompeo's non-reply seen as part of deliberate U.S. administration policy to aid Israeli prime minister in Tuesday's election

U.S. President Donald Trump smiles at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, after signing a proclamation on recognizing the Golan Heights, White House, Washington, March 25, 2019.
Susan Walsh,AP

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to comment Monday on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent statements, in which he said Israel would annex parts of the West Bank if he's reelected in Tuesday's election.

The question arose during a press conference at the State Department on the Trump administration’s decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization. Pompeo responded that he had nothing to say on the Israeli prime minister’s comments.

Netanyahu has said in several interviews that he intends to annex parts of the West Bank if he wins another term as prime minister after Tuesday's election. He also said he has been discussing the issue with the Trump administration and hopes the administration will accept his position. 

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Pompeo’s non-reply to Netanyahu’s statements is part of a deliberate policy, as the administration does not want to comment on the subject less than 24 hours before Israelis go to the polls. The administration has been seen as helping Netanyahu’s reelection campaign in recent weeks and if Pompeo had refuted Netanyahu’s claims, this may have damaged the prime minister’s efforts. 

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In February 2018, when Netanyahu made similar comments about annexation, the White House was quick to release a statement contradicting his words.

“Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false,” White House spokesman Josh Raffel said at the time. “The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”

The administration is expected to release its peace plan for the Middle East shortly after a new government is installed in Jerusalem. The plan will almost certainly be rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which views Trump’s advisers working on the subject as biased toward Netanyahu and the Israeli right. Leading Arab countries have also warned that they won’t accept a peace plan that doesn’t include a Palestinian state in the West Bank.

A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the West Bank, April 7, 2019.
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS