Trump Administration and Netanyahu Discussing ‘Gradual’ West Bank Annexation Plan

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration and the Netanyahu government are discussing a plan for “gradual” Israeli annexation in the West Bank, which would take place in several installments over the coming months, according to sources who have knowledge of the debate within the American administration. This, they have said, is one of the options that will be considered this week at the White House when Trump convenes a meeting on the issue with his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and with the American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and other senior officials.

The administration’s plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians would allow Israel to eventually annex as much as 30 percent of the West Bank, including all of the settlements there. Shortly after the plan was first presented in January in the run-up to Israel’s March Knesset election, Netanyahu and Friedman spoke about immediate annexation of the entire 30 percent, but Kushner put a stop to the idea.

Now, with the approach of the July 1 deadline that Netanyahu announced as the target date for getting the process started, there are some in Washington and Jerusalem who are proposing a different approach: annexing some settlements now, and potentially adding others in the future.

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There are several reasons why this option is gaining momentum in the administration’s internal deliberations.

It could diffuse some – even if not all – of the criticism that annexation has already sparked from America’s allies in the Middle East. The administration, particularly Kushner, is interested in further improving ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and there is concern that an extensive annexation, as proposed by Friedman, would damage to those relations.

In addition, the administration still hopes to present any move involving annexation as the product of a broad Israeli consensus rather than a politically motivated deal between Trump and Netanyahu. Achieving that, however, requires the support of Netanyahu’s centrist coalition partners, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of Kahol Lavan.

Gantz and Ashkenazi, two retired Israeli army generals with decades of experience in the Palestinian arena, oppose the Friedman-Netanyahu annexation plan, but might be convinced to support a more limited move, such as annexing particular settlements in the vicinity of Jerusalem.