White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said Washington wants Israel to wait until after its March 2 election before making any moves towards settlement annexation in the West Bank following the announcement of a US peace plan.
Kushner, an architect of the peace proposal hailed by Israel and rejected by the Palestinians, raised the stop sign in a video interview, posted on the Internet on Thursday, with GZERO Media, a subsidiary of political risk analysis firm Eurasia Group.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Tuesday, after President Donald Trump announced the US plan, that he would ask his cabinet next week to approve applying Israeli law to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Such a move could be a first step toward formal annexation of the settlements, along with the Jordan Valley in the West Bank - territory Israel has kept under military occupation since its capture in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek for a future state.
Most countries consider Israeli settlements on land captured in war to be a violation of international law. Trump has changed US policy to withdraw such objections.
"Well let's see what happens," Kushner, who is Trump's son-in-law, said when asked about the possibility Israel would begin an annexation process as early as this weekend. "The hope is that they'll wait until after the election and we'll work with them to try to come up with something."
On Wednesday, Israel's hawkish defense minister, Naftali Bennett, called for the government to establish sovereignty over nearly a third of the West Bank.
Trump's plan envisages a two-state solution with Israel and a future Palestinian state living alongside each other, but with strict conditions that Palestinians reject.
The blueprint gives Israel much of what it has long sought, including US recognition of its West Bank settlements and Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. A redrawn, demilitarized Palestinian state would be subject to Israeli control over its security, while receiving tracts of desert in return for arable land settled by Israelis.
Asked in the interview whether Washington would be supportive if support Israel if "they go ahead and annex", Kushner said: "No. What the administration is doing is we've agreed with them on forming a technical team to start studying, taking the conceptual map."
The coming election is Israel's third in less than a year, following two that were inconclusive. Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, is facing criminal corruption charges and trying to hold onto power with a right-wing coalition that views much of the West Bank as the biblical heartland of the Jewish people.
Israel's attorney general still has to weigh in on whether Netanyahu's present caretaker government has the legal authority to carry out annexation moves.