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WASHINGTON/TEL AVIV: In a rare public show of disunity between Washington and Tel Aviv on Monday, the White House dismissed the Israeli prime minister’s claims that the two countries had discussed plans for annexation of land claimed by Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu said had said earlier in the day that he was in talks with Washington about annexing settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move that could shatter a peace process that is already on life support.

The assertion was flatly denied by White House spokesman Josh Raffel, who works closely with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner,.

“Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false,” he said.

“The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”

In his statement to lawmakers from his Likud party Mr Netanyahu had said: “Regarding the issue of applying sovereignty, I can tell you that I have for some time been speaking with the Americans about it.”

Netanyahu said he wanted to coordinate any such “historic” move with the United States because of the country’s strategic importance to Israel, his spokesman said.

Some Israeli media interpreted the comments as the first time Netanyahu expressed support for annexing the settlements.

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisa­tion, condemned the remarks as amounting to “land theft” with US complicity.

The comments come with Netanyahu under pressure from right-wing politicians to move ahead with legislation that would apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank.

Two lawmakers, including one from Netanyahu’s party, have proposed such legislation.

Netanyahu blocked it from being advanced on Sunday, with officials citing the need to focus on security issues following a confrontation that led to Israeli air strikes in Syria at the weekend.

Unilateral annexation of settlements would be sure to draw international outrage, though Netanyahu’s government has been bolstered by the unstinting support of US President Donald Trump.

Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December in a move praised by Netanyahu as “historic” but denounced by the Pales­tin­ians and most of the rest of the world.

Israeli settlements are located in what is known as Area C of the West Bank, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of the Palestinian territory. Annexing all settlements would leave little space for a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu heads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history, and prominent ministers openly oppose a Palestinian state.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2018

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