President Donald Trump’s top national security advisers have been unable to make a decision on whether to support an Israeli plan to annex important parts of the land that the Palestinians claim for a future state.
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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s top national security advisers have been unable to make a decision on whether to support an Israeli plan to annex important parts of the land that the Palestinians claim for a future state, a deadlock that could affect the timing of any action by Prime Minister Benjaimin Netanyahu.
The White House said Thursday that consultations with Israeli officials will continue as they try to formulate a proposal that supports Trump’s plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
The Trump administration’s decision on annexation could alter America’s position in the Middle East and affect Trump’s election year support for evangelical Christians, an important part of his political base. Virtually the entire international community opposes annexation, but many of Trump’s national supporters enthusiastically endorse it.
The announcement of a delay came a day after inconclusive talks on backing Netanyahu’s intention to extend Israel’s civilian administration to large portions of the West Bank.
A senior administration official said the United States’ ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and the administration’s special envoy for peace in the Middle East, Avi Berkowitz, would travel to Israel on Thursday to continue discussions.
The official said the White House meetings had been “productive,” but added that “there is still no final decision on the next steps to implement the Trump plan.” The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump could either side with Netanyahu, who has cited July 1 as an expected date for a decision, or endorse or less directly oppose a less comprehensive takeover, which is the most unlikely scenario. That date was not set in stone, and the uncertainty of the Trump administration’s position could make that date less likely.
But Netanyahu is expected to act before the fall, given the uncertainty about Trump’s prospects for a second term and the alleged opposition of Democratic candidate Joe Biden to annexation.
The partisan division over annexation was highlighted Thursday with the publication of a letter to the Israeli government signed by 189 House Democrats expressing concern over the annexation plan.
“Our fear is that unilateral actions, taken by either party, will alienate the parties from the negotiations and the possibility of a final negotiated settlement,” lawmakers said.
At stake for the Trump administration is its credibility with Trump’s cultivated Arab partners and with the European nations he has antagonized on numerous fronts, from climate change to trade to the nuclear deal with Iran.
Politically, potentially more persuasive for Trump and his team is that his decision will affect his position with evangelical Christians whose support he needs to win reelection. Although his campaign believes that evangelical Christians will vote overwhelmingly for Trump, the campaign is concerned about decreased enthusiasm and possible participation among an essential group of voters.
Among those who favor Netanyahu’s plan are Trump’s advisers, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as Friedman, the U.S. ambassador, and several Republicans in Congress. They say the annexation, in addition to pleasing the Trump base, would facilitate a peace deal because that step would mitigate what they believe to be unrealistic Palestinian expectations for a future state, according to officials familiar with the matter. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
But others in the administration and in Congress want to see recognition of the possible annexation by the White House, or limited. They include Pentagon officials and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of the Middle East peace plan, which has been roundly rejected by the Palestinians.
People on this side of the debate are concerned that strong public support would alienate US allies in the Middle East and beyond at a particularly delicate time in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and threats posed by Iran.
Jordan, one of only two Arab nations with a peace agreement with Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, a key US partner in the Middle East, spoke out against annexation and warned of serious consequences for the region if Netanyahu continues ahead. The European Union has expressed strong opposition and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said he hopes Israel will not proceed.
Trump’s re-election campaign has seen a weakening of intensity in many major voting groups, including evangelicals, during the pandemic, economic recession, and protests against racial injustice.
Trump has tried in recent weeks to find ways to restore that intensity, in large part because his campaign depends more on maximizing his base’s participation than on winning an ever-smaller group of undecided voters.