JERUSALEM (AP) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that talks with the US regarding his plan to annex occupied West Bank would continue “for the next few days”, indicating that he would miss a target date of July 1 to start the controversial process .
Netanyahu made the comments shortly after finishing talks with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. The parties have spent months talking about the completion of a map indicating which areas of the West Bank will be annexed by Israel.
“I spoke about the issue of sovereignty that we are working on today and what we will continue to work on for the next few days,” said Netanyahu.
Netanyahu was keen to begin annexing the territory of the West Bank, in line with President Donald Trump’s plan in the Middle East. The plan, which was unveiled in January, provides for the transfer of about 30% of the territory under permanent Israeli control, while giving Palestinians autonomy in the remaining country.
But the plan to redraw the map of the Middle East has been under fierce international criticism. The Secretary-General of the UN, the European Union and the major Arab countries have all said that the Israeli annexation violates international law and undermines the goal of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Palestinians, seeking the entire West Bank as part of a future state, have rejected Trump’s plan.
Israel conquered the West Bank of Jordan in the 1967 war in the Middle East. The international community believes that the territory is occupied and that Israel’s more than 120 settlements are illegal.
But Trump has followed a much more conciliatory line than his Republican and Democratic predecessors. Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, has said that Israel should take advantage of what he calls a “historic opportunity” and would like to move forward before the November presidential election.
In an outsourced report, Israeli public broadcaster Kan released a graphic on Tuesday that showed Israeli changes had been proposed to the original annexation card proposed by Trump.
The map calls for turning over additional West Bank territory allotted to the Palestinians, especially land around settlements and highways marked in green. In return, it proposes to “offset” the Palestinians with a yellow marked area that Trump’s proposal had assigned to Israel.
Israeli channel Channel 12 TV reported that US negotiators are asking Israel to take “an important step” as a gesture to the Palestinians, such as handing over the West Bank territory to Palestinian control similar to the one in the annex. Israel currently has full control of 60% of the West Bank. That report was also not outsourced.
Netanyahu says his goal of annexing all settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley is necessary to protect Israeli security. He also defended it in religious terms by saying that the territories are part of the biblical land of Israel.
In addition to international opposition, Netanyahu has faced some resistance from its government partner, Defense Secretary Benny Gantz.
The coalition agreement for their new government, which took office in May, gives Netanyahu the power to file an annexation proposal after Wednesday. But US officials have said they will not move forward with a plan unless the two leaders agree.
Gantz, who also holds the title of deputy prime minister, said on Monday that the July 1 target was not “holy.” He also said that annexation will “wait” as the government struggles with the economic and health crisis in Israel caused by the corona virus.
Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.
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