White House opposed vote on Israel 'annexation' bill, says US official
AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP/File)
US President Donald Trump's administration opposed a planned vote on a controversial Israeli bill that critics say would amount to de facto annexation of Jewish settlements surrounding Jerusalem, a US official said Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed a vote on the bill by a ministerial committee that was scheduled to take place on Sunday.
"The Americans turned to us and asked to understand the essence of the law," Netanyahu said at a meeting with ministers from his Likud faction on Sunday.
"As we have been cooperating with them until now, it is worth talking to and coordinating with them. We are working to promote and develop the settlement rather than to promote other considerations," Netanyahu said.
The US official's comments confirmed that the White House pressured Netanyahu to postpone or drop the bill.
"I think it's fair to say that the US is discouraging actions that it believes will unduly distract the principals from focusing on the advancement of peace negotiations," a US official said on condition of anonymity.
"The Jerusalem expansion bill was considered by the administration to be one of those actions."
The bill would absorb major Israeli settlements currently in the West Bank into Jerusalem by enlarging the city limits.
Its opponents argue that it is a step towards full unilateral annexation of the West Bank settlements affected -- a move that would be sure to spark international outrage.
For the vast majority of the international community, the status of Israel's settlements, built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state, is to be decided in peace negotiations.
The bill has drawn harsh criticism from Palestinians and those hoping to salvage the two-state solution.
Settlements affected are Maale Adumim, Beitar Illit, Efrat, Givat Zeev, and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.
Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who has pushed for the bill, says it would add an additional 150,000 people to Jerusalem's population, strengthening its Jewish majority.
Barack Obama's administration's was heavily critical of Israeli settlement activity, but Trump has been far less vocal on the issue.
His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is himself a supporter of Israeli settlements.
(Staff with AFP)
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