David Friedman, Trump’s US ambassador to Israel, told the New York Times on 8 June: “I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank”.
His declaration boosts Israel’s right-wing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu — or, looking at it another way, puts him on the spot — in the run-up to new elections in Israel on 17 September. Although Netanyahu came top in the 9 April poll, he was unable after it to put together a right-wing government coalition. The Israeli parliament voted on 30 May to dissolve itself. Netanyahu will be running a caretaker government until September. The coalition talks failed on the question of ending ultra-orthodox Jews’ exemption from military service.
The US State Department semi-disavowed Friedman, stating that “reports, according to which Israel is holding talks with the US about annexation plans in the West Bank, are false”. The Democrats have put down motions in both the Senate and the House of Representatives opposing annexation, and a big swathe of left and centre opinion in Israel is outraged, as well as, of course, the Palestinians.
Under terms dating from the Oslo process, Israel currently controls Area C, over 60% of the area of the West Bank, including all the Jewish settlements and land surrounding Areas A and B, under Palestinian Authority semi-control, which are made up of over 160 distinct patches of land, cities, towns, villages in which almost all the Palestinians live. (Picture shows Israeli forces demolishing a Palestinian-owned building in Area C.)
The divisions in the Trump-Netanyahu camp, and the new election, give us more time to stop annexation and push a democratic “two states” settlement.