'Don’t be mistaken, the Americans will go along with this'

Netanyahu says Israel has started mapping West Bank areas to annex

As he appears to further back away from pledge of swift annexation, PM insists process ‘won’t take a lot of time’; doesn’t specify whether effort part of US-Israeli map commission

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Likud party campaign event at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem on January 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Likud party campaign event at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem on January 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday said Israel has begun mapping parts of the West Bank to annex, appearing to further step back from a pledge to swiftly apply Israeli sovereignty over these areas following the publication of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

“We’re already in the process of mapping the territory that according to the Trump plan will be part of the State of Israel,” he said at a Likud campaign event in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement town on Saturday night.

“This won’t take a lot of time and we’ll complete this,” Netanyahu added, without further specifying.

Immediately after Trump announced the release of his Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal during a January 28 White House ceremony attended by Netanyahu, the premier told reporters he planned to bring his plan to annex the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements for cabinet approval within days.

A close-up of the Trump administration’s “Vision for Peace Conceptual Map” published on January 28, 2020.

Though US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman initially signaled American support for Israel moving ahead immediately with annexation, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner clarified the next day that the Trump administration expected Netanyahu to wait at least until a new Israeli government is formed sometime after the March 2 vote.

Kushner on Thursday said it will likely take “a couple of months” to complete work on detailed West Bank maps before Israel will be able to annex settlements and the Jordan Valley.

US President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alongside US Vice President Mike Pence (C), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2nd R) and White House adviser Jared Kushner (R) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, January 27, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Speaking to reporters at the United Nations, Kushner said he and his team would follow up with the announcement shortly that a US-Israeli commission is being established to turn its “conceptual map” into a detailed map with the goal of making sure “you can have contiguous territory” for a Palestinian state.

It can take “a couple of months” for technical teams to come up with a map, Kushner said, and during that time he and his team plan to consult with European and Middle Eastern governments to further explain the plan.

Netanyahu did not clarify Saturday whether the mapping was in coordination with the United States or whether the commission had been established.

“There is a lot, a lot of territory and this won’t take a lot of time,” he said.

Issuing during what his Likud party called a “particularly important statement,” Netanyahu insisted the Trump administration will back his annexation plans.

“Don’t be mistaken, the Americans will go along with this, President Trump will go along with this,” he said.

The premier also claimed only he could secure American recognition for Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements. “I don’t trust [Blue and White chairman] Benny Gantz,” he said, referring to his chief political rival.

Gantz met separately with Trump late last month and has expressed support for the US proposal. He promised to apply Israeli sovereignty annex parts of the West Bank in he becomes prime minister after the upcoming elections “in coordination with the international community.”

US President Donald Trump meets with Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in the White House in Washington on January 27, 2020. (Elad Malka)

Following his initial pledge, Netanyahu has since refrained from addressing a timeline for annexation, but at a campaign event Tuesday urged attendees to help him get reelected, saying that a victory would allow his Likud party to gain approval for the Trump peace plan.

Those remarks appeared to be an acknowledgement that annexation would not be on the table before the national vote.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu reportedly told settler leaders Thursday he was still working on some degree of annexation before the elections, according to participants in the meeting.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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