US will not support West Bank annexation before Israeli elections, Kushner warns

Architect of new deal wants an Israeli government to be in place before details are implemented

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent
Thursday 30 January 2020 17:34 GMT
Trump says Jerusalem will be Israel's 'undivided capital' under Middle East peace plan

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and architect of his new peace deal, has said that the US will not support Israel annexing settlements in the occupied West Bank until after its elections in March.

In an interview published on Thursday, Mr Kushner appeared to row back on Washington’s enthusiastic backing of Israel’s plan to immediately declare sovereignty over sensitive areas such as the Jordan Valley.

He said the Trump administration did not support the position and would rather wait until a joint US-Israel committee is formed to determine the details.

His comments came as Andrew Murrison, a British Foreign Office minister, cautioned that “annexations are unlawful because they fuel conflict”.

Mr Kushner, when asked whether Washington would support Israel if it immediately went ahead with annexation, told global affairs website Gzero that “the hope is they’ll wait until after the election”.

“We’ve agreed with them on forming a technical team to start studying, taking the conceptual map,” he said, adding that it could take several months.

“I want to make sure we have all the parameters defined ... We’ll start working on the technical stuff now, but I think we’d need an Israeli government in place in order to move forward.”

Mr Trump announced his “Peace to Prosperity” plan on Tuesday flanked by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The US president said it was the best way to solve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Netanyahu said he would bring a proposal to annex the settlements to his weekly cabinet meeting, sparking uproar from the Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu is campaigning for re-election in a vote due on 2 March, the third election in less than a year after he twice failed to form a ruling coalition.

He was formally indicted on corruption charges on Tuesday, just hours before joining Mr Trump for their press conference.

Israel’s attorney general still has to weigh in on whether Mr Netanyahu’s present caretaker government has the legal authority to carry out annexation moves.

In Mr Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”, Israel would be permitted to declare sovereignty over large swathes of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley along the Jordanian border.

It would also hand Israel complete control of the contested city of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hoped would house their capital.

In addition, the agreement would allow Israel to deploy troops to the new state of Palestine, which would be demilitarised and given no control over its airspace, international borders or sea.

The Palestinians have roundly rejected the deal, calling it a “conspiracy” and the end of hope for a viable Palestinian state.

Settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have stalled since 2014.

After decades of settlement building, more than 400,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank among about 2.9 million Palestinians, according to statistics from the Israeli government and the Palestinian Statistics Bureau.

A further 212,000 Israeli settlers live in east Jerusalem, the United Nations estimates.

The UK welcomed the publication of the peace plan and encouraged Palestinian leaders to “get back around the negotiating table”, but balked at the calls for immediate annexation that followed.

Mr Murrison insisted that “these are not our plans” when pressed on Thursday over details of the agreement.

“Annexation would be illegal under international law,” he told parliament.

“Some of the rhetoric we saw in the aftermath of the release of this document, ‘Peace to Prosperity’, I think perhaps was overdone and overblown and has been reined back on overnight by a number of those who have made those claims.”

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