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Netanyahu aide said to admit US in no mood for annexation, so PM won’t go ahead

Settler leaders protest after report of comments by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a member of the mapping committee. ‘No need to wait for anyone,’ says Yesha Council

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin has acknowledged in private conversations that no attention is currently being given in Washington to Israeli plans to annex up to 30 percent of the West Bank, according to a Tuesday Army Radio report.

As a result, Levin reportedly said, the controversial move will likely have to be placed on the back burner as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not move forward without coordinating with the Trump administration.

The US administration’s attention is elsewhere, the report claimed Levin had said, and “it is not listening” when it comes to annexation.

The White House has said repeatedly that it is up to Israel to decide on annexation, but has yet to give a definitive answer as to whether it is prepared to support and recognize the unilateral annexation now of part or all of the 30% of the West Bank allocated to Israel in its peace plan.

While similar comments have been made in recent weeks by Likud officials who have acknowledged that the spiraling pandemic has forced the attention of world leaders to turn to other issues, Levin is one of only a handful of Israeli officials who have been deeply involved in talks with American officials regarding the Trump plan’s implementation and ramifications.

Levin also sits on the seven-member joint US-Israeli mapping committee that has been tasked with drawing up the exact parameters for annexation that Washington will be willing to accept. The committee’s progress has been slowed by the pandemic, with Netanyahu telling settler leaders and even Defense Minister Benny Gantz that the maps have yet to be finalized.

Settler leaders responded angrily to Tuesday’s Army Radio report, asserting that US approval is not needed for Israel to move forward with annexation. “There is no need to wait for anyone. This move depends solely on us. It is time to keep the promises made and apply [Israeli] sovereignty [to the West Bank] regardless of any factor,” the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors said in a statement, referring to the Likud premier’s repeated election promises to carry out annexation if elected.

Samaria regional council head Yossi Dagan speaks during a ceremony at the Barkan industrial zone in the West Bank on October 7, 2019. (Flash90)

The more hardline Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan went further, writing in a statement, “Never since the establishment of the state has a nationalist government bowed and surrendered like this to the Americans.”

Dagan is among a plurality of the 24 settler mayors who have voiced their opposition to the Trump plan because it conditionally earmarks 70% of the West Bank for a potential Palestinian state. They have argued that Netanyahu must move forward with annexation, but not in the context of the US peace proposal.

A slightly smaller camp of settler mayors led by Efrat Local Council chairman Oded Revivi have argued that the plan’s theoretical proposal of a Palestinian state is a pill worth swallowing as it comes with US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over all settlements as well as the Jordan Valley — a development that settler leaders could only have dreamed of before Trump took office.

Netanyahu’s coalition government set July 1 as the date from which it could begin implementing Netanyahu’s pledge to unilaterally extend sovereignty to all 132 settlements in the West Bank and to the Jordan Valley, constituting together about 30 percent of the West Bank, subject to American approval.

But as the target date came and went without any action, Netanyahu’s office said he would continue to discuss the possible annexation with the US administration.

The US aside, the international community has voiced near-unanimous opposition to unilateral annexation.

On Monday, Jordan’s King Abdullah told British lawmakers that the Netanyahu government’s plans would fuel instability and dim slipping hopes for a peace agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Any unilateral Israeli measure to annex lands in the West Bank is unacceptable, as it would undermine the prospects of achieving peace and stability in the Middle East,” the Reuters news agency quoted Abdullah as having told members of the Foreign and Defense parliamentary committee in virtual testimony.

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