The Trump administration is disinclined to back Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeatedly declared intention to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank next month, unless the move is supported by Netanyahu’s Blue and White coalition partners Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, a TV report claimed Monday night.
Channel 12 news said Netanyahu, Gantz, Ashkenazi and the Likud’s Knesset speaker Yariv Levin met on Sunday night with the US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and that the takeaway from the talks was that for the Americans to give their backing, they would want to see the full Israeli unity government clearly supporting any unilateral annexation move.
While Gantz and Ashkenazi are both on record enthusiastically backing the “Peace to Prosperity” vision that US President Donald Trump unveiled at the White House in January, Gantz has said repeatedly that he would seek its implementation in coordination with other affected parties, such as the Palestinians and the Jordanians, rather than unilaterally.
The Palestinians preemptively rejected the entire plan, and Jordan has warned that it would review relations with Israel if Netanyahu goes ahead with his pledge to unilaterally annex the 30 percent of the West Bank that the plan allocates to Israel.
Netanyahu told settler leaders on Sunday night that he would indeed annex all the 132 settlements, home to some 450,000 Israelis, on July 1 — the date on which his deal with Gantz allows him to advance annexation in the government and/or the Knesset — but that the rest of his planned annexation, mainly covering the Jordan Valley, may have to wait.
Monday’s Channel 12 report said that the Americans want to see Israel’s government fully united behind any annexation move in part because the US president is already preoccupied with problems at home — with the anti-racism protests, and the COVID-19 crisis — and the administration knows that unilateral Israeli annexation of West Bank territory will cause it problems overseas. Allies in the Gulf are opposed to the move, as is the European Union. The US Democratic Party is also opposed. Even Israel’s settler leaders are divided on the entire Trump plan, with some favoring annexation now, and others rejecting the entire vision because it conditionally provides for a Palestinian state.
The TV report claimed the window for unilateral Israeli annexation will close by mid-August, when the Democrats hold their national convention — presumably because by then the presidential election campaign will be moving into full swing.
Monday night’s TV report came a week after The Times of Israel reported that the administration is “highly unlikely” to approve an Israeli move to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank by July 1. In fact, it could take weeks and possibly even months before the joint US-Israel mapping committee concludes its work, a well-placed source said, which the White House has declared a precondition that must be met before it would give a green light for annexation.
Channel 12 said maps were not presented at Sunday’s talks between the Israelis and Ambassador Friedman. The IDF and Israeli security hierarchies are also understood not yet to have been given the specifics of Netanyahu’s annexation plans.
Gantz is set to meet with some settler leaders on Tuesday, with the annexation question high on the agenda.
Later this week, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is set to visit Israel to warn against unilateral annexation. According to a Haaretz report late Monday, Israel has told him he would have to quarantine in Israel for 14 days if he goes to visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the trip, and Maas is therefore instead going to talk with Abbas via video link.
Ashkenazi is set to tell Maas that Israel is looking carefully at annexation in the context of “the ramifications in the region,” including with regard to Israel’s peace treaties [with Jordan and Egypt], Channel 12 reported — hardly a ringing endorsement of unilateral annexation.