There’s a plan — but no map, no timetable and no draft law

July 1 came and went this week without a move by the Israeli government towards annexation

July 02, 2020 12:25

July 1 came and went this week without a move by the Israeli government towards annexing parts of the West Bank. Not even a word from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, beyond the laconic statement that “discussions are ongoing”.

Six months after US President Donald Trump unveiled his “deal of the century” peace plan, and two months after Mr Netanyahu insisted that the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White include July 1 as the date from which the government and Knesset could begin debating annexation, there is no map, no draft of a law, and no timetable for carrying it out.

Likud ministers insisted on Wednesday that this was just a temporary delay, and within “weeks to months,” as Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a radio interview, Israel would apply its sovereignty to some of the West Bank settlements. But none of them could specify which settlements and when.

In a Knesset committee meeting on Wednesday, a senior official from the Justice Ministry said that his office had not yet been consulted on the legal ramifications of annexation while a representative of the National Security Council admitted that their report had yet to be brought to cabinet and would be presented in “the next few days.” Meanwhile, settlement Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who is expected to become Israel’s new ambassador to Britain in the coming months, said in an interview with Arutz Sheva, a settlers news organisation, that talks were ongoing with the Trump administration regarding the scale of annexation, with the aim of reaching “significant sovereignty of major parts of Judea and Samaria”.

“The most important thing is that the government of Israel will never agree that as part of applying annexation, there will be an agreement for a Palestinian state of any kind,” she said. Ms Hotovely admitted that “right now there’s a gap between our concept to that of the Americans, who are on the eve of a difficult election.”

But not all Likudniks were so confident. “We don’t even know yet whether the prime minister is planning to extend sovereignty through a cabinet decision or a Knesset vote,” said one bemused Knesset member from the ruling party. “We will support it, but only if it’s clear that this doesn’t mean we’re agreeing to a Palestinian state.”

Mr Netanyahu has failed to reach consensus over the proposed move, even within his own party, as agreeing to the Trump Plan would in principle also mean accepting a future Palestinian state on 70 per cent of the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Likud’s main coalition partner, Blue and White, sounded this week its clearest objection to rushing ahead with unilateral annexation. Defence Minister and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz gave two rare interviews early in the week saying that July 1 “isn’t a sacred date” and that annexation wasn’t a priority for “a million unemployed” Israelis who have been laid off due to Covid-19. His number two in the party, foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi said that “the US president’s deal of the century is a good plan, but it must be implemented with as many partners as possible.” Mr Netanyahu sniffed in a meeting with his Likud parliamentary faction that “Blue and White don’t get to decide,” but he knew there were others who do.

The pointed statements from the Blue and White leaders came after they had met with Avi Berkowitz, a senior aide to Jared Kushner, President Trump’s special adviser and son-in-law, who was the chief author of the Trump plan.

They were the clearest indication that despite the official position of the Trump administration, that annexation “is an Israeli decision,” the White House wants Israel to hold back for now.

Mr Kushner is also in charge of the administration’s relations with the pro-US Arab regimes, who are against annexation. In recent days, the administration tried to get Mr Netanyahu to agree to make a gesture towards the Palestinian Authority, such as agreeing that part of the West Bank currently under Israeli security control (Area B, where the Palestinian Authority has only civilian responsibility) would be transferred to full Palestinian control.

July 02, 2020 12:25

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