Netanyahu: We are still working on sovereignty

Palestinians offer peace talks mediated by UN, but only if Israel gives up all West Bank sovereignty plans.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A day before the earliest date the government can move to apply Israeli sovereignty in parts of the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized the matter is still on the agenda.
Following a meeting with US Special Envoy for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Tuesday, Netanyahu said: “We talked about the question of sovereignty that we are working on in these days, and we will continue to work on in the coming days.”
No sovereignty moves are expected to take place on Wednesday, despite the coalition agreement allowing Netanyahu to bring it to a cabinet vote starting July 1. But the prime minister reportedly took a major step, showing his proposal for where Israel would apply its civil law.
The new map, as reported by KAN, would remove the problem of Israeli enclaves within Palestinian territory by broadening the areas of Israeli sovereignty around them and making the parts of the West Bank that would be under Israeli sovereignty more contiguous. It would also include some outposts.
In order to maintain the 30%-70% proportion of Israeli and Palestinian parts of the West Bank, Israel would give up on unpopulated strips of land that were supposed to be under its sovereignty, including part of the Judean Desert.
Netanyahu also reportedly said any extension of sovereignty at this time must include Beit El and Shiloh, both biblical cities that are not in the major settlement blocs that Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz agreed to bring under Israeli law.
The Americans have asked Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians at the same time it makes any sovereignty moves. One possibility is giving them control of parts of Area C of the West Bank – currently governed by the IDF – in proportion to wherever Israel applies its civil laws, Channel 12 reported. Area C is 60% of the West Bank, and the Trump peace plan would allow Israel to apply sovereignty to half of it.
The White House said it could not confirm any of those details, and the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu kept up public sparring with Gantz on the topic. Gantz reiterated that dealing with the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus must come first, telling Ynet: “A million unemployed people don’t know what we’re talking about... they’re worried about what they’ll do tomorrow morning.”
In a meeting with US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, Netanyahu made a dig at Gantz, saying: “We have very important topics to discuss, even ones that can’t wait until after corona.”
Netanyahu’s allies went further. Asked if the prime minister would go to an election if sovereignty does not happen, coalition chairman Miki Zohar responded: “In my estimation, the matter of sovereignty is critical for the prime minister.”
Transportation Minister Miri Regev said sarcastically in a Channel 13 interview: “Gantz didn’t know about sovereignty.” The same channel reported a source close to Netanyahu said that if “Gantz sabotages sovereignty, there will be a painful response.”
According to the coalition agreement, Netanyahu can bring sovereignty to a vote in the Knesset or the cabinet beginning July 1 even if Gantz does not agree to it.
Also Tuesday, Palestinian officials said they are prepared to resume peace negotiations with Israel only after it cancels its plan to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
Peace talks should be held only through an international peace conference and under the auspices of the UN, the officials told The Jerusalem Post.
Several Palestinian factions, meanwhile, called for protests in the West Bank on Wednesday against the Israeli plan. The factions urged Palestinians to clash with soldiers as part of a “day of rage” in protest against the annexation plan.
“The Palestinian position remains unchanged and firm,” one official told the Post. “We are calling for an international conference under the umbrella of the UN and with wide participation of international parties on the basis of international legitimacy and the [2002] Arab Peace Initiative.”
The official said it is “premature” to talk about the resumption of any peace process as long as Israel proceeds with its plan to extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership remains committed at this phase to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s May 18 decision to renounce all agreements and understandings with Israel and the US administration, another Palestinian official told the Post.
“The US administration has disqualified itself from playing any role in the Middle East peace process because of its blind bias in favor of Israel,” the official said. “That’s why we are now insisting that the UN and other international parties and countries increase their role in the conflict. Our goal is to end US hegemony over the peace process.”
Palestinian officials on Tuesday stepped up their efforts to prevent Israel from carrying out its annexation plan.
In a series of meetings in Ramallah with foreign diplomats, they warned of the “dangers” and “grave repercussions” of the Israeli plan and called on the international community to pressure Israel to backtrack.
In a related development, a PA official confirmed that the Palestinians have offered to resume peace negotiations with Israel.
The offer was included in a letter the Palestinians sent in early June to the Quartet, which consists of the US, UN, EU and Russia, the official said.
The official, who was responding to a Monday dispatch by AFP, said PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh had talked about the letter to the Quartet during a meeting with the Foreign Press Association on June 9.
At the meeting, Shtayyeh revealed that the Palestinians presented a counteroffer to US President Donald Trump’s plan for Middle East peace, also known as the “Deal of the Century.”
The counteroffer calls for the establishment of an independent, sovereign and demilitarized Palestinian state, Shtayyeh said.
The Palestinian plan also talks about the possibility of “minor border changes” between the future Palestinian state and Israel, he said, without mentioning the Palestinians’ readiness for bilateral talks with Israel.
The AFP dispatch quoted the Palestinian letter to the Quartet as saying the Palestinians are “ready to resume direct bilateral negotiations [with Israel] where they stopped.”
According to the letter, “No one has as much interest as the Palestinians in reaching a peace agreement, and no one has as much to lose as the Palestinians in the absence of peace. We are ready to have our state with a limited number of weapons and a powerful police force to uphold law and order.”