Likud minister says cabinet won’t discuss annexation on Sunday after all

After Netanyahu vows to immediately push dramatic move, Yariv Levin cites time needed to prepare documents, wait for approval from AG, who doesn’t rule it out

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Likud MK Yariv Levin during a faction meeting at the Knesset on December 9, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Likud MK Yariv Levin during a faction meeting at the Knesset on December 9, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A minister from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said Wednesday morning that the cabinet will not discuss an immediate annexation of West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley on Sunday, reversing a promise made by the premier a day earlier.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said in an interview with Israeli radio stations that the reason for the delay was technical, since presenting the decision requires “preparation time and work on the various documents.”

He also said the government must wait for the opinion of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on the matter.

After US President Donald Trump rolled out his long-awaited peace plan Tuesday, Netanyahu vowed to bring a decision on annexation to the cabinet table as early as Sunday, raising questions whether a transitional government can approve such a drastic move weeks before a national election.

Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, who is one of the plan’s architects, told CNN in an interview Tuesday that he didn’t believe Israel would approve the move on Sunday, “at least not as far as I know.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony held for outgoing State Prosector Shai Nitzan at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Mandelblit said Tuesday night that he could rule in favor of a transitional government approving an annexation.

“My point of view is that I need to help the government implement its policy and that has rules — restraint must be maintained during a transitional government,” said Mandelblit, who earlier in the day filed an indictment against Netanyahu with the Jerusalem District Court in three corruption cases after the premier withdrew his request for immunity from prosecution.

“If a request will be filed, I will examine it from a legal perspective,” he added. “I don’t rule out anything. I will hear what the request is and what the explanation is for the urgency, and I will decide on that basis.”

The Ynet news site cited an unsourced estimation that Mandelblit would likely say the annexation was legal, but point out legal difficulties in making such a dramatic decision. It quoted a decision from almost 20 years ago, when attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein told prime minister Ehud Barak that there was no legal impediment to holding negotiations with the Palestinians during a transitional government, but that the timing was nevertheless inappropriate.

Yamina party leader Ayelet Shaked arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked said Wednesday in an interview with Army Radio that “Mandelblit will not block a historic move such as applying [Israeli] sovereignty in Judea and Samaria,” using the biblical term for the West Bank.

“All the restrictions on transitional governments have descended from court rulings that began 20 years ago and reins placed by legal advisers. It has no anchoring in the law,” she added.

Netanyahu told reporters in Washington that the US had agreed to Israel’s immediate annexation of “additional areas” of the West Bank, that are adjacent to the settlements. However, he said that Israel will apply sovereignty there not immediately, but during a second phase at a yet-undetermined time.

“We need to do some work to define exactly [what we will annex],” he said.

Netanyahu’s main rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party has said it would only support implementing the contours of the plan after the March 2 election.

Breaking with past US administrations, the plan envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, a handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and some areas of southern Israel — on condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip disarm.

The plan also calls for allowing Israel to annex settlements, granting the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and ongoing overall security control west of the Jordan River, and barring Palestinians entering Israel as refugees.

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