The US State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism asserted Monday that any decision for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank was up to the Israeli government alone, and therefore any delay in doing so was on the country’s leaders.
His comments appeared to contradict multiple recent reports according to which Washington is heavily involved in discussions of the plan, and has indicated to Israel that it may not agree to it happening next month, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had originally envisioned.
Under the coalition deal between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the new government can begin extending sovereignty over areas of the West Bank designated for Israel under US President Donald Trump’s peace plan next month.
An Israeli-American committee has been working on mapping out the areas over which Washington would agree to Israel extending its sovereignty.
However, a minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party said last week that the July 1 target date for annexation could be pushed off by weeks, while a source told The Times of Israel that the US was “highly unlikely” to support Israel moving forward with annexation then.
During an interview for a conference held by the Makor Rishon newspaper (conducted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic), Elan Carr was asked if the ongoing protests in the US over George Floyd’s killing by a police officer could cause annexation to be delayed.
“Nothing is preventing Israel from extending sovereignty,” Carr said.
“One thing could postpone it and that’s a decision by Israel’s leaders… When to do this, how and how much [territory will be annexed] is the decision of the prime minister and his partner, minister Benny Gantz.
Carr claimed Trump administration officials had already clarified the US will recognize Israel’s sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley.
“We’re very optimistic. It’s a complete change in direction,” he said, referring to Trump’s peace proposal.
Carr added: “We are very excited to cooperate with Israel to advance all of our aspirations for regional peace in the Middle East, also with the Palestinians and the Arab world.”
The Palestinians have rejected the US peace plan out of hand and railed against Netanyahu’s pledge, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas saying he was no longer bound by agreements with the Jewish state.
Numerous European and Arab states have also expressed opposition to Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and have warned of possible repercussions.
On Sunday, Netanyahu told settler leaders that he still intends to annex settlements on July 1, but said that the extension of sovereignty over other areas may be put off.
Netanyahu’s comments would mean the government would initially annex about three percent of West Bank territory, covering the 132 settlements, home to some 450,000 Israelis. The remainder of the roughly 30% that the Trump deal grants to Israel — most of which is in the Jordan Valley — would be annexed at a later period, when the joint US-Israeli mapping committee finishes determining the exact territorial divisions beyond the pre-1967 Green Line.
Netanyahu also said that while the US may characterize the roughly 70% of non-contiguous West Bank territory being conditionally offered to the Palestinians under the Trump deal as a state, he himself does not do so, according to one official present at the meeting who asked to remain anonymous.