JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he was “confident” he will be able to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank this summer, with support from the U.S.
Speaking to an online gathering of evangelical Christian supporters of Israel, Netanyahu said President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan envisions turning over Israel’s dozens of settlements, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley, to Israeli control.
“A couple of months from now, I’m confident that that pledge will be honored, that we will be able to celebrate another historic moment in the history of Zionism,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli annexation of West Bank territory would be highly controversial, drawing widespread international condemnations and extinguishing any lingering hopes of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The Palestinians, with wide international backing, seek the entire West Bank as part of an independent state. They have already threatened to cancel existing peace agreements if Netanyahu moves forward with his plan, while the European Union foreign policy chief said annexation would be a violation of international law and force the bloc to “act accordingly.” The U.N.’s Mideast envoy said such a step would “ignite” the region.
But Netanyahu and his hard-line base are eager to move ahead while Trump remains in office. Annexation would be popular with Trump’s evangelical base as he seeks to shore up support ahead of a difficult reelection battle.
In Washington, a U.S. official said the American position hasn’t changed.
The official said the U.S. is “prepared to recognize Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty” in parts of the West Bank, and that the U.S. is consulting closely with Israel on the timing and scope of those actions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
Netanyahu last week reached a power-sharing deal with his main rival, Benny Gantz. Although Gantz, a former Israeli military chief, has given only lukewarm support for West Bank annexation, their coalition agreement allows Netanyahu to present the plan to his Cabinet and to parliament for fast-track approval.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and its settlements are now home to some 500,000 Israelis, in addition to over 200,000 Israelis living in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
After Trump unveiled his Mideast plan in January, Netanyahu pledged to begin annexing territory immediately. But the Trump administration quickly delayed the plan, and the sides set up a joint committee to formulate a plan together.
Netanyahu addressed a conference marking the 100th anniversary of the San Remo Conference, a post-World War I gathering in Italy that helped lay the foundations for Israel’s establishment in 1948.
AP correspondent Matthew Lee in Washington contributed reporting.