WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department signaled on Thursday that it was not worried by an Israeli bill that would annex settlements in the West Bank to Jerusalem, because the legislation is a long way from being approved by the Knesset, and could perhaps never even reach that point.
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The issue came up at the daily press briefing led by White House Spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who was asked about the Israeli government’s intention to vote this Sunday on the bill. Nauert replied: "My understanding is that piece of legislation is in the early stages of development. Some of these would be internal matters that I wouldn’t want to comment on. I know that it has to go through several steps before it would even become law."
According to the bill, which was submitted by MK Yoav Kish (Likud) with the support of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), the settlements of Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar Illit and Givat Ze'ev will be included under Jerusalem's municipal jurisdiction, but not officially annexed to Israel.
Nauert did not express opposition to the legislation, but instead hinted that it could never actually become law in Israel. Sources in the Israeli ruling coalition have also stated that this is a possibility. The bill has been discussed in Israel since last year, and so far it has never progressed past the most preliminary voting stages. However, the vote slated for Sunday is a step further than any stage the legislation has reached thus far. The bill would still need to get approval in the Knesset.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who previously delayed the vote on the bill, initially agreed to promote it in July following an attack on the Temple Mount that killed two police officers. But the bill never made it to the panel for a vote.
Pro-Israel organizations that support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict warned this week about the possible implications of the bill. The Israel Policy Forum warned that the legislation "is the first step down the path of unilaterally annexing settlements to Israel itself. Should this occur, it will severely damage prospects for a two-state solution, communicate bad faith toward the Palestinians, and cast doubts on Israel's commitment to a negotiated permanent status agreement."
American For Peace Now urged U.S. President Donald Trump to express opposition to the bill, stating that “settlement annexation could kill the two-state solution. That is why U.S. administrations, Democratic and Republican, opposed it, and why Israeli governments avoided it. If President Trump now allows the annexation of settlements, he will condemn Israelis and Palestinians to perpetual conflict and bloodshed, and become a partner in turning Israel into an international pariah.”