PM says US wants Gantz on board for annexation, vows not to back down — report

Blue and White officials tell TV network they can’t form position as they haven’t been presented with clear plans; Netanyahu said to suggest move could be pushed back past July 1

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the Trump administration wants Israeli annexation of West Bank land to be done with the support of Defense Minister Benny Gantz, multiple Hebrew media outlets reported, while Blue and White officials said that they could not present a position on the plan, as the premier had thus far failed to outline it clearly.

According to Channel 12 news, Netanyahu told a group of senior IDF reserve officers who support annexation that he did not plan to back down from his plan to unilaterally extend sovereignty over the roughly 30 percent of the West Bank allocated to Israel under US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Netanyahu said, however, that he had not reached an agreement with his coalition partners Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on this, and therefore annexation could potentially happen in stages, Channel 13 news reported.

“Netanyahu said the conversation was now about how to carry out the move, and he emphasized that it depends on internal negotiations in the government” between partners Likud and Blue and White, an unidentified source who took part in the meeting told the network.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office on the meeting said the premier touted the “historic opportunity” to extend sovereignty over West Bank territories and thanked the reservists for their support, but did not further elaborate.

To bridge the gap between the sides, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman met Monday with Netanyahu, Gantz and Ashkenazi. It was Friedman’s second meeting with them in as many days.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the Kohelet Forum Conference at the Begin Heritage Center, in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Also Monday, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu indicated his annexation pledge could be pushed back past July 1, the date his coalition deal with Gantz allows him to move forward with the move.

“I wanted to bring annexation for approval soon, but the map still isn’t complete,” the daily quoted him saying during a Likud faction meeting.

Netanyahu was referring to the work of a joint US-Israeli committee mapping the areas of the West Bank that Israel can annex under Trump’s plan and those designated for a Palestinian state. The US has said that the committee must complete its work before Israel can move ahead with annexation.

The premier told Likud lawmakers that he didn’t know what Gantz and Ashkenazi’s stance on annexation was, according to Haaretz, suggesting that a lack of coalition consensus could also cause the move to be pushed past July 1.

Meanwhile, sources in Gantz’s party told Channel 12 that they could not present any clear position on Netanyahu’s annexation plans, as they had not been given any clear proposal or maps. They suggested that Netanyahu might not know himself how he wished to proceed.

Likud said in a statement in response: “Gantz for his own reasons refused to view the sovereignty maps in today’s meeting.”

Additionally, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu told lawmakers he would not bring the entire Trump plan — which supports the establish of a Palestinian state — to the government or Knesset for approval, only the part on annexation.

“If and when there is a peace agreement [based on the plan] it can be brought [for approval], not before,” he was quoted saying by the newspaper.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks to Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem May 31, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)

Gantz referred to the Trump plan on Monday, during the American Jewish Committee’s annual conference, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It gives us a realistic approach of how a stable future should look…. I intend to promote it as much as I can in a most responsible way,” Gantz said in an English-language interview. “We have to work on the basis of it and we have to move forward with regional partners, with local partners, of course, with consensus within the Israeli society and with full coordination and acceptance of the backup we need from the United States.”

Netanyahu’s vows to push ahead with unilateral annexation have been condemned internationally, with European and Arab states, as well as senior members of the US Democratic Party, warning the Israeli government against doing so.

According to a Palestinian report on Monday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has refused to accept phone calls Netanyahu, amid seething anger in the Hashemite kingdom over the prime minister’s annexation plans.

The Ma’an news agency report, which cited a Jordanian official, said Jordan is also refusing to set a date for a meeting with Gantz to discuss the annexation plans and the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II reviews an honor guard before giving a speech to parliament in Amman, Jordan, November 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

The issue has also threatened to upend years of diplomatic work forging quiet ties between Israel and Gulf states. On Friday, the United Arab Emirates’ influential ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, warned in a Hebrew op-ed published in an Israeli paper that Abu Dhabi would freeze normalization if annexation moves ahead.

Other Gulf states have remained mostly quiet about annexation, though an Israeli diplomatic official told Army Radio Monday that ties with these countries would be set back by annexation moves.

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