US seeking Israeli gesture toward Palestinians to offset annexation — TV report

Among ideas floated would be redefining some Area C lands as Area B; Israel said to present edited version of Trump map that addresses enclaves

US peace envoy Avi Berkowitz (L) with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Jerusalem on June 29, 2020. (Avi Berkowitz/Twitter)
US peace envoy Avi Berkowitz (L) with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Jerusalem on June 29, 2020. (Avi Berkowitz/Twitter)

The Trump administration is reportedly pushing Israel to offer the Palestinians some sort of compensation in exchange for the unilateral annexation of some of the West Bank land they want for their future state.

Among the ideas is transferring an area to the Palestinians where they can build without limits, or redefining some Area C lands, where Israel maintains full control, as Area B, where Palestinians have civil control, Channel 12 reported Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Kan public broadcaster reported that Israeli officials have passed along to the White House a slightly edited version of the Trump peace plan’s conceptual map that better connects a group of at least 15 isolated settlements to the rest of the West Bank territory the proposal envisions Israel annexing.

While the plan sees these communities being transformed into enclaves surrounded by the future Palestinian state, the report said that the edited map drawn up by the Israeli team would allow for the annexation of additional land surrounding those settlements so that they do not remain enclaves. In exchange, the Israeli side redrew the conceptual map to give to the Palestinians land in the Judaean Desert that Israel views as less integral.

While not specified in the report, the Israeli-edited map published by Kan appeared to transfer parts of the so-called Triangle of Arab towns just west of the northern West Bank, to the future Palestinian state. It is an idea that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed he would not pursue after the residents of those areas voiced massive opposition to the prospect, which was included in the Trump plan.

Netanyahu met earlier Tuesday with US Ambassador David Friedman and special Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, a day ahead of his self-imposed date for beginning to annex as much as 30 percent of the West Bank — all of the settlements along with the strategic Jordan Valley.

But he appeared to indicate after the meeting that he would miss the July 1 target date. “I spoke about the question of sovereignty, which we are working on these days and we will continue to work on in the coming days,” Netanyahu said, meaning the groundwork ahead of the move will continue after July 1.

The Times of Israel reported on June 3 that US approval for annexation on July 1 was “highly unlikely.”

The meeting came as Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz continued to spar publicly over the timing of the annexation plans, with the premier dismissing Gantz’s assertion that it is too early to begin implementing them.

Gantz said Tuesday that Israel needs to move ahead on the Trump plan with “partners” from the region and international backing.

In a separate meeting with US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, Netanyahu appeared to mock comments Gantz made during a meeting with the US team on Sunday, in which he said annexation should wait until after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Adviser to the US Secretary of State, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“We have serious issues to discuss,” Netanyahu said. “So serious they can’t even wait until after the coronavirus passes.”

Gantz on Monday had said that “dealing with the coronavirus and its socioeconomic and health consequences is the more pressing issue that needs to be attended to right now.”

Though he is seen as reluctant to move forward with unilateral annexation, Gantz, who also serves as alternate prime minister, has agreed to allow Netanyahu to advance such a plan after July 1 if he can secure a cabinet or Knesset majority.

The US appears to be conditioning the advancement of the annexation on Gantz’s backing, in addition to support by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Netanyahu, speaking on Monday evening, however, said Gantz’s Blue and White party was “not a factor” in the decision on annexation.

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