TV: Netanyahu looking for symbolic ‘mini annexation’ move before elections

After US opposition foils plans to approve move at Sunday cabinet meeting, PM now said looking for ‘green light for a small annexation to satisfy the voters’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets with heads of Israeli settlement authorities at the Alon Shvut settlement in the Etzion Bloc in the West Bank on November 19, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets with heads of Israeli settlement authorities at the Alon Shvut settlement in the Etzion Bloc in the West Bank on November 19, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

After his plans to quickly annex the Jordan Valley and West Bank Jewish settlements were stymied by US opposition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is eager to secure backing for a symbolic “mini annexation” in the coming days to appease his right-wing voters, Israeli TV reported Friday.

The proposal unveiled Tuesday by US President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday recognizes Israel’s right to annex the Jordan Valley, all West Bank settlements and their surroundings — some 30% of the West Bank in total.

Immediately after, Netanyahu pledged to bring the issue for a vote in the cabinet on Sunday, but has since backtracked after the US administration indicated that while it does not oppose annexation, it was not ready to see it happen until at least after the coming Israeli elections on March 2.

The setback left right-wing supporters and settlers deeply disappointed, Channel 12 reported, and Netanyahu was eager to present them with something symbolic ahead of the vote.

“In the next few days there’ll be a great effort for some kind of green light for a small annexation to satisfy the voters,” said Channel 12 political analyst Dana Weiss.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a campaign address next to a map of proposed areas of the West Bank for annexation on September 10, 2019. (screen capture: Facebook)

The report did not give an indication of what was being planned, but in the past Israeli officials have spoken about starting with one of the large settlements or blocs near Jerusalem.

Amid US opposition, Netanyahu called off the Sunday cabinet meeting and no new date has yet been set, Hebrew media reported earlier Friday.

It is now not clear when Israel would go ahead with an annexation process. Trump on Tuesday spoke of a joint committee in which the US and Israel would convert the plan’s conceptual map “into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved.”

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020

Netanyahu told reporters the same day that he would bring the annexation bid to a vote in Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Initially, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman indicated there was no impediment to this, but senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner and other senior US officials later said that they expected Israel to hold off until at least after the elections.

On Thursday a senior Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told media there is no substantive disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem over Israel’s right to annex the Jordan Valley and other West Bank territories.

The official said that Israel wanted to perform the annexation in one, two or possibly three stages — first the Jordan Valley and the settlements, and their immediate surroundings later.

“The Americans don’t want to do it in several rounds, because they don’t want to extend recognition several times. They want to do it one time,” the Israeli official told reporters on Netanyahu’s flight from Moscow to Tel Aviv. “Trump will recognize” Israel’s right to annex all territories the peace plan envisions as being part of Israel, he said. “This is a technical issue only,” he added.

The official did not respond when asked if there was a misunderstanding between the Jerusalem and Washington regarding the timing of the annexation.

President Donald Trump speaks during an event with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington, to announce the Trump administration’s much-anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

While many on the right of Israeli politics welcomed the Trump proposal for allowing extension of sovereignty to key areas in the West Bank and Jordan Valley, some balked because it also provides for the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state, albeit with limited sovereign rights and under overall Israeli security control.

MK Ayelet Shaked, of the Yamina alliance of three parties to the right of Likud, said Friday that Israel must begin annexing the territories allowed for in the plan in order to prevent a Palestinian state from being formed.

“If we start with extending sovereignty, then we will not arrive at a Palestinian state,” she said at a meet the press forum. “If we start with negotiations for a Palestinian state we will arrive at… East Jerusalem in the hands of terrorists, and exploding buses.”

New Right MK Ayelet Shaked in Herzliya, January 27, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The plan grants Israel much of what it has sought in decades of international diplomacy, namely control over Jerusalem as its “undivided” capital, rather than a city to share with the Palestinians, who would have the capital of their future state in the East Jerusalem area — but without the coveted Old City and surrounding neighborhoods. The plan also lets Israel annex West Bank settlements, and rules out the return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli territory.

Many Western countries and international bodies said they needed time to assess the plan, reiterating their support for the longtime international consensus favoring a two-state solution to the conflict on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.

The UK on Friday also warned Israel against a hasty annexation, saying the move needs to be part of a peace treaty agreed with the Palestinians.

Though the proposal provides for a Palestinian state, it falls far short of Palestinian hopes for a return of all the territories captured by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967 and imposes major limitations on Palestinian sovereignty, with Israel retaining overall security control over the Palestinian entity.

The Palestinians have angrily rejected the entire plan.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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