Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that Israel has received a direct message from US President Donald Trump’s administration warning of an “immediate crisis” if the government were to annex the West Bank and apply Israeli sovereignty there.
Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Liberman said that he had received calls from all over the world criticizing the idea of annexation, including a candid communique from the new US administration.
“The coalition should make unequivocally clear that there is no intention at the moment to apply Israeli sovereignty,” the defense minister said.
Furthermore, “we received a message directly — not indirectly, not a hint — from the US, that Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank means an immediate crisis with the new administration,” he added.
A spokesman for Liberman declined to comment on who from the US administration had delivered the message.
Liberman’s comments — made with journalists present before a closed door briefing to the high-level committee — came amid calls from some in the Likud and Jewish Home parties for the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim and other settlements, and after an interview given by Likud MK Miki Zohar on Sunday, in which Zohar called for full Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
Zohar told i24News that were Israel to annex the West Bank, Palestinians would not be able to receive full rights. “The two state solution is dead; what is left is a one-state solution with the Arabs here not as full citizens,” he said, “because full citizenship will let them to vote for the Knesset. They will get all the rights like every citizen except voting for the Knesset.”
Israel has controlled the West Bank since capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War but has never moved to annex any of the territory beyond extending sovereignty to East Jerusalem.
Asked if his vision would still leave Israel as a democracy, Zohar said that he proposed allowing full citizenship for those who fulfilled certain criteria to prove their loyalty to the state, such as joining the army. “I promise you: they (the Palestinians) won’t (want to) serve in the army, they will (prefer to) give up the option to vote. They won’t vote in the Knesset. They would prefer not voting and not contributing to this country, believe me,” he said.
Liberman said that the interview sparked angry opposition from foreign countries, whose leaders called him to clarify the official Israeli position.
“I’ve been getting phone calls from them asking me, ‘What’s the coalition’s position?’ I want to make it very clear, at least concerning my worldview: We need to separate from the Palestinians and not absorb Palestinians into our territory,” he said, citing the vast financial burden of offering “at least citizenship” to 2.7 million people, saying it would immediately cost Israel NIS 20 billion ($5.4 billion).
“Zohar is a leading member of the coalition. I believe he’s the acting chairman of the coalition… I call on members of the Knesset and first and foremost on the coalition to act responsibly and take a clear and firm position,” Liberman added.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) dismissed Liberman’s warning, saying he was trying “to dictate a reality that has not yet been created in Washington.”
“The current [US] government has not yet formulated its strategic plan for the region… [It is] open to new political thinking and all options are still on the table,” she said.
Speaking to The Times of Israel after the committee meeting, Zohar said that Liberman appeared to have confused Trump’s position with that of the previous administration.
“I would not be so quick to bury US policy toward Israel under Obama’s positions,” he said. “The new administration is relying on Netanyahu to set policy for the good of Israel.”
Despite Zohar’s assertion, coalition lawmakers agreed over the weekend to delay a contentious vote on extending Israeli sovereignty to the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
Likud MK Yoav Kisch and Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich announced on Friday that at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they would postpone putting the annexation bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation until March 12.
The proposed legislation, vociferously condemned by the international community, has already been postponed several times in recent months. At Washington’s request, it was delayed until after the February meeting between Netanyahu and Trump.
While Trump has indicated he could be more tolerant of Israeli settlements than the Obama administration was, Netanyahu on Monday reportedly said the two leaders had yet to cement an agreement regarding his government’s policies in the West Bank. At their February press conference, Trump asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Speaking at a Likud faction meeting last week, Netanyahu confirmed he was working with the White House to establish a “mechanism” for coordinating settlement construction, but added that “things are not as simple as you think they are.”