Netanyahu hints at delaying West Bank annexation

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his government was still “working” on his West Bank annexation plan, hinting at a possible delay of the controversial move.

Speaking a day ahead of the target date for the beginning of the annexation set by Netanyahu, the Prime Minister said on Tuesday that he met US Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, reports Xinhua news agency.

Netanyahu said he discussed with them “the question of sovereignty”, referring to his plan to impose Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, part of the West Bank where the Palestinians want to build their future state.

He noted his government was “currently working on” the plan and “will continue to work on it in the coming days”.

The remarks were made during a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu and his main coalition partner, Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, were at odds over the annexation.

While Netanyahu wanted to start the procedure of imposing Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley as early as July 1, Gantz wishes to postpone the move.

On Monday, Gantz, who serves as Israel’s alternate Prime Mminister and Defence Minister, told a meeting of lawmakers with Blue and White that “anything not related to the struggle against the coronavirus will wait”.

A few hours later, Netanyahu dismissed Gantz’s remarks, telling a meeting of lawmakers with his right-wing Likud party that he is working “discretely” with envoys of US President Donald Trump.

Under their power-sharing deal, both Netanyahu and Gantz hold veto power over key government decisions.

However, the deal allows Netanyahu to bring an annexation proposal to the cabinet even without Gantz’s approval.

Netanyahu had set July 1 as the date for his plan to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up some 30 per cent of the West Bank, a territory seized by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.

The Palestinians, who claim all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, have rejected the idea.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.