Israeli annexations may be initially limited to only the three largest settlement blocs in the West Bank, but not the Jordan Valley and other smaller Jewish settlements, according to a report.
The Times of Israel, citing unnamed Israeli officials, reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was intending to postpone the annexation of the bulk of territory that he has promised would come under Israeli sovereignty after July 1 and prioritise the settlements of Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion.
Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly promised that the process of annexing Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley would begin on July 1, as agreed in the coalition agreement signed between his Likud party and Defence Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White.
On Sunday, he appeared to signal a scaling back of his immediate ambitions – telling settler leaders that while he intended to annex all settlement blocs in the West Bank from July 1, the process of annexing other territory would wait.
Annexations form part of the "peace plan" announced in January by American President Donald Trump, which envisages Israeli appropriation of a large tranche of the occupied West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, in exchange for a rump Palestinian state under Israeli security control an unspecified time in the future.
The report said that the joint American-Israeli mapping committee was still working to delineate the areas to be annexed and that the Israeli military has yet to be made aware of Netanyahu’s precise intentions.
Washington has signalled that the completion of the mapping committee’s work is a precondition for it green-lighting annexation, and it is understood that Mr Netanyahu believes that annexing the three settlement blocs is the most politically possible step given the cooling of the White House’s initial enthusiasm for any unilateral steps towards annexation.
There has long been a consensus in Israel and the United States that Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel would become part of Israel proper in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.
All three settlement blocs are perceived as areas in which the mapping work required is relatively straightforward.
Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion are suburbs of Jerusalem while Ariel is deeper into the West Bank. All are tightly integrated into the Israeli infrastructure system.
It was also suggested that such a ‘phased’ annexation process would dampen potential tension with Jordan, which has been threatening to tear up its 1994 peace treaty with Israel were annexations to go ahead.