The U.S. State Department on Friday denied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement that he had discussed the possible annexation of the Jordan Valley with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the pair's meeting in Lisbon, Portugal earlier this week.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker said in a press briefing that "there was no annexation plan, full or partial, for any part of the West Bank was presented to - by Israel to the United States during the meeting."
Schenker's remark contradicts what Netanyahu told reporters while he briefed them in Lisbon. The prime minister said that he "discussed with Pompeo the annexation of the Jordan Valley. Clearly it will be easier [if the Jordan Valley is annexed under] a government and not a transitional government which is much more complicated, we are looking for solutions."
Before he took off for Portugal, Netanyahu had told reporters that his talk with Pompeo will "focus primarily on Iran and on two other topics: A defense treaty with the U.S., which I would like to promote, and a future American recognition of the application of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. These are very important topics, which we are constantly handling."
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This comes as a bi-partisan resolution opposing Israeli annexation of the West Bank and reinforcing U.S. support for the two-state solution was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, an unprecedented step in the U.S. legislature. While it is not legally binding, it displays growing opposition among the Democratic Party to the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition.
On Thursday, Netanyahu told Haaretz that it was Israel's full right to annex the Jordan Valley if it chooses to do so. His comment came after International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda expressed concern over Israeli proposals to annex this West Bank region.
Asked on the matter by reports in Lisbon, the premier said “It’s our full right to do so if we decide,” despite the ICC prosecutor’s report.
Asked about a timeline for the proposed annexation, Netanyahu said “there are some questions about what can be done in a transition government. Exactly because of that we should form a government now and do it.”