Prime Minister Netanyahu hinted to Likud lawmakers during Monday’s faction meeting that Israel will not begin moving forward with annexing parts of the West Bank on July 1, as he has repeatedly pledged, Kan news reported.
“I have a positive and topical line of communication with the Americans and when I have something to report, I’ll report [it],” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by the public broadcaster. “This is a complicated process with lots of diplomatic and security considerations that I can’t get into. We said that [annexation] would be after July 1.”
One consideration, according to an unnamed source quoted by Kan, is the upcoming decision by the International Criminal Court on whether it has jurisdiction to launch a war crimes probe against Israel and the Palestinians.
Earlier in the meeting, Netanyahu said his coalition partners in the Blue and White party were “not a factor” in whether annexation of West Bank lands would go ahead as planned.
The prime minister was responding to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who said fighting the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout should take precedence over any political decisions regarding the West Bank.
“We are in talks with the US team here in Israel,” Netanyahu said at the Likud faction meeting in the Knesset. “We are doing it discreetly. The matter is not up to Blue and White; they are not a factor either way.”
As part of the unity coalition deal with Likud, Gantz also serves in the post of alternate prime minister. Though he is seen as reluctant to support unilateral annexation, he has agreed to allow Netanyahu to advance such a plan after July 1, if he can secure a Knesset majority.
Earlier Monday, Gantz told top US diplomats involved in discussions with Israel about annexation that the July 1 start date for the controversial step should be pushed back, citing the coronavirus crisis.
“July 1 is not a sacred date,” Gantz told US Mideast envoy Avi Berkowitz, according to a source close to the defense minister. “Dealing with the coronavirus and its socioeconomic and health consequences is the more pressing issue that needs to be attended to right now.”
In public comments later in the day, Gantz said, at the Blue and White faction meeting, that “those things that are not related to the fight against coronavirus will wait until the virus is behind us.” His office later clarified that he was referring specifically to the annexation plan.
Concerned about the collateral damage that could follow from allowing Israel to move ahead with its plan, Washington is reportedly considering backing the annexation of only a handful of settlements close to Jerusalem.
According to a Channel 13 report Sunday evening, Jordan has warned Israel that it will not accept even a limited annexation of West Bank land and will respond to any such move in the same way it would react to the unilateral annexation of all settlements and the Jordan Valley
Jordan has threatened to abrogate or downgrade its 1994 peace treaty with Israel if the annexation goes ahead and Abdullah is said to be so infuriated at Israel’s intentions that he has stopped accepting calls from Netanyahu.
A similar stance has been expressed recently by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has threatened a harsh response if Israel annexes even an “inch.”