Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau said Monday that Israel will only extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and areas of the West Bank with the agreement of Washington, taking another step back from his initial declarations that he would speedily move ahead with the measure.
Many settler leaders, along with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, have been urging Netanyahu to immediately begin the process of extending sovereignty — tantamount to annexation — ever since US President Donald Trump allowed for it in his peace plan, unveiled last month. But Washington has since made it clear it wants Jerusalem to wait until at least after the coming March 2 elections in Israel before taking any steps.
Speaking at a tree-planting ceremony in the Mevo’ot Yeriho settlement in the Jordan Valley to mark Tu Bishvat, the Jewish new year for trees, Netanyahu said the consent of the Palestinians is not necessary.
“We will do this with the agreement of the Americans, because what we are doing is not unilateral,” Netanyahu told members of the Jordan Valley Regional Council.
“Trump said he will recognize sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea, and all the settlements in Judea and Samaria,” he said. “It does not depend on the agreement of the Palestinians. We are, at the moment, dealing with the mapping.”
The prime minister said Trump has made good on previous promises to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy to the city in 2017, to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and to pull out of a nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 — all moves strongly backed by Netanyahu.
“Now he is saying that he will recognize sovereignty after the work, that we are in full swing of, is completed,” Netanyahu said.
Among those who were at the meeting with Netanyahu was Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman David Elhayani, who the day before had called on Netanyahu to annex the territories soon as possible.
On Sunday US Ambassador David Friedman said the US would not support immediate and uncoordinated annexation. He warned the Israeli government against applying its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank before the March 2 election, citing Trump’s mention of a bilateral committee that must conclude its mapping work before Jerusalem would be allowed to go ahead with its planned annexation.
“I am not suggesting that the government of Israel should not do whatever it wants to do. Israel is a sovereign state. But people should know that if the president’s position is simply ignored then we’re not going to be in a position to go forward,” Friedman said at a briefing at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a hawkish think tank.
Friedman also appeared to acknowledge publicly for the first time that Jerusalem received contradictory messages from the US administration regarding when exactly Israel would be allowed to move forward with annexation.
Mere moments after the peace deal’s unveiling on January 28, Netanyahu told reporters that his cabinet would vote in favor of annexation the very next week. Friedman at the time appeared to back that statement, telling reporters that “Israel does not have to wait at all” when asked whether there was a “waiting period” that would have to elapse before the country could extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and all of its settlements.
A short while later, the president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner, the peace plan’s chief author, contradicted Friedman, making plain in a series of interviews that the White House expected Israel not to annex any areas before the work of the bilateral committee was completed.
Kushner has said that it would 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.
After briefing the UN Security Council at a private lunch at the US Mission to the United Nations last Thursday, Kushner told a small group of journalists that 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 could 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.
The Palestinians have angrily rejected the US peace plan.