Upcoming Sunday cabinet meeting cancelled amid uncertainty over annexation plans

No new date set for ministerial gathering, which Netanyahu had initially said would approve extending sovereignty to West Bank areas, after calls to hold back from Washington

The weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem)
Illustrative: The weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem)

The upcoming Sunday cabinet meeting, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed would approve extending Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, has been cancelled with no new date set, Hebrew media reported Friday.

Since Netanyahu made the pledge following the release of the Trump peace plan on Tuesday, Israeli officials have walked back the idea 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 proposal US President Donald Trump unveiled at the White House recognizes Israel’s right to annex the Jordan Valley, all West Bank settlements and their surroundings — some 30% of the West Bank in total.

However, it is not clear when Israel would go ahead with this 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.”

Yet 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.

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)

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.

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

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.

Netanyahu had stopped in Moscow on his way back from Washington to oversee the release of a US-Israeli backpacker who was jailed for 7.5 years on a minor drug offense in Russia, but then pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Labor Party leader Amir Peretz speaks in Tel Aviv, January 20, 2020. (Flash90)

Also Friday, leftist Labor-Gesher-Meretz chairman MK Amir Peretz attacked the Blue and White party, saying the centrist movement is “walking a fine line and looking for every opportunity to shift o the right. The attempt to bring the Trump plan for a Knesset vote testifies that they also prefer unilateral annexation over negotiations and separating from the Palestinians,” Maariv reported.

Trump had invited Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz to Washington for talks before he rolled out the peace plan and Gantz has since said he will bring the entire proposal for approval by the Knesset next week. Netanyahu, who also met separately with Trump in Washington and stood alongside the president in the White House as the peace plan was announced, has also given his support for the scheme.

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 enables the establishment of a Palestinian state.

MK Ayelet Shaked, of the Yamina alliance of three parties to the right of Likud, said Friday that Israel must begin by annexing the territories allowed for in the plan 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.

And 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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