Report: Israel has told Abbas it will limit annexation to 2-3 settlement blocs
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Report: Israel has told Abbas it will limit annexation to 2-3 settlement blocs

Ramallah official tells TV network that message conveyed via Jordan said Jerusalem no longer planning to annex the Jordan Valley

Jordan's King Abdullah II, left, speaks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmuod Abbas upon his arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 7, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad GHARABLI)
Jordan's King Abdullah II, left, speaks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmuod Abbas upon his arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 7, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad GHARABLI)

Israel has conveyed a message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that its annexation plans have been greatly reduced, will no longer apply to the Jordan Valley and will be limited to only two or three settlements blocs, Channel 12 reported Friday, citing a senior official in Ramallah.

The official told the network the message was delivered via Jordan, following Mossad chief Yossi Cohen’s reported meeting on the matter with King Abdullah this week.

The official said no specific details were given on the settlements to be annexed, but said the implication was it would be a small number of blocs. There are three main settlement blocs — Ma’ale Adumim (to the east of Jerusalem), the Etzion Bloc (to the capital’s south) and Ariel (in the heart of the West Bank, southwest of Nablus) — all of which Israel has long indicated it would seek to retain under any negotiated accord with the Palestinians.

The Channel 12 story echoed a radio report earlier this week, according to which Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has said that Israel is unlikely to annex the Jordan Valley under the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

“I assume the annexation will not include the Jordan Valley. Everyone understands this,” Ashkenazi told officials in closed-door talks in recent days, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

It also was in line with comments earlier this month by top Israeli officials to Zman Yisrael, the Hebrew sister site of The Times of Israel, that Israel will at this stage only annex three West Bank blocs, but not the Jordan Valley or other settlement areas.

TV news reports Tuesday night had said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping to get White House approval for a first phase of annexation that would include not only one or more of the major settlement blocs such as Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel or the Etzion Bloc, but also one or more relatively “isolated” settlements, deeper in the West Bank, to “convey the message” that those more isolated settlements would also not become part of a future Palestinian entity. A potential second phase of annexation would be more extensive — in line with Netanyahu’s pledge to extend Israeli law to all 132 settlements and the Jordan Valley.

A Thursday report on Channel 12 said security chiefs were deeply divided on the possible ramifications of annexation, with the chiefs of the military and Mossad at odds on whether the move will be met with significant Palestinian violence or not.

Ministers present at a meeting of the high-level security cabinet Wednesday said IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Military Intelligence commander Tamir Hayman warned annexation could spark violent unrest in the West Bank, including shooting attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony in the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on June 18, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

They also reportedly warned there could be a return of suicide bombings — as there were during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s — and said the move could lead to fighting in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen on the other hand was dismissive of the IDF forecasts, the report said.

“I don’t accept the claim that annexation will necessarily lead to violent responses,” he was quoted as saying in the meeting.

According to the report, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman took the middle ground, saying that while there would be a response to annexation, economic conditions were good enough in the West Bank that he didn’t believe there was a Palestinian interest in “breaking the rules of the game.”

As Netanyahu’s intended target date of July 1 to begin annexation approaches, there has been rising international pressure on Israel to abandon the plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the area where a new neighborhood is to be built in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, February 20, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool Photo via AP, File)

It’s unclear if Israel will move ahead with any annexation on July 1, since the United States is still considering its approval for the plan. Three days of White House discussions on the matter this week concluded without any final decision being made. Key US officials are reportedly heading to Israel to discuss the issue with Israeli leaders.

Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and Ashkenazi — the defense and foreign ministers — have also given the US administration pause by their reluctance to back the Netanyahu unilateral annexation plan. The two have said they will not support annexation that hurts Israel’s relations with its neighbors, particularly Jordan.

The United Nations and European and Arab powers on Wednesday warned Israel that its plans to annex Palestinian land would deal a major blow to peace.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that “decisions about Israelis extending sovereignty to those places are decisions for the Israelis to make.”

Gantz on Tuesday signaled he could back unilateral annexation of West Bank land, citing persistent refusals by the Palestinians to reach a deal with Israel, while reiterating his demand that the move not endanger Israel’s existing peace agreements.

“We won’t continue to wait for the Palestinians. If they say no forever to everything, then we’ll be forced to move forward without them,” Gantz said in a briefing to military reporters.

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party and MK Gabi Ashkenazi at an election campaign event ahead of the coming Israeli elections, in Kfar Saba on February 12, 2020 (Gili Yaari / Flash90)

Gantz laid out his conditions for annexation, vowing there would be an “organized process” in coordination with the Israel Defense Forces and other security services.

He indicated he opposed annexing territory with many Palestinians in it, and that any Palestinians in the territory to be annexed should be offered equal rights. He stressed the need for maintaining freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank. He said annexation should be coordinated with other relevant players — an apparent reference to Jordan, Egypt and others in the region.

Gantz is also said to favor that any annexation take place in the context of some kind of wider offer to the Palestinians — “a carrot” along with the stick, according to a Channel 13 report Tuesday night.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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