Netanyahu: Sovereignty may start small if Gantz insists

PM, Gantz hold second meeting with ambassador Friedman.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel may apply its law to only some of the settlements this summer because the US will only support it if Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz is on board, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of former IDF senior commanders on Monday. There is a strong possibility that Gantz will only agree for sovereignty to be applied in phases, he said.
US President Donald Trump’s plan allows Israel to annex 30% of the West Bank, including all settlements and the Jordan Valley.
The Trump plan is a “historic opportunity” for Israel and must be seized now while Trump is in office, Netanyahu told the “Protectors of Israel” group.
In a Likud faction meeting, he said the map of where Israel will extend its laws can only be completed with Gantz, who remains indecisive.
Asked by an MK what Gantz’s Blue and White faction wants to do, Netanyahu said it was unclear.
“I wanted to bring [sovereignty] to a vote within days, but the map isn’t ready,” he said. “We are in talks with the Americans. We want their agreement for the entire matter… We held two discussions with Blue and White. I don’t know what their stance is. We want to finish the mapping.”
The prime minister spoke after a second meeting this week with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to discuss sovereignty plans.
Netanyahu also said the entire Trump plan will not be brought to a vote; rather, it will be used as a basis for negotiations with the Palestinians, should they agree to talks.
“When I have an agreement, I will bring it for authorization in the Knesset and the government,” he said.
The plan is “not annexation; it is applying sovereignty,” Netanyahu said, adding that “construction will not be frozen in existing settlements.”
Should Netanyahu, Gantz and the US agree on a plan for applying sovereignty, it would have to be voted on in the cabinet. Many of the practical details of the move would have to go to the Knesset to be passed as law.
In a speech to the American Jewish Committee’s Virtual Global Forum, Gantz reiterated past remarks on the Trump plan without recommending how to proceed in the short term.
“It is an important plan that presents a realistic attitude of the way a stable future in the region can be built, and I plan to promote it as much as I can in the most responsible way,” he said.
Gantz called “to work based on the plan in coordination with regional partners... with a consensus in Israeli society and in coordination and full acceptance of the US.”
When he met with UN Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov on Monday, Gantz said he was committed to a diplomatic settlement that would preserve Israel’s security. He assured Mladenov that he was committed to working with him to promote peace and stability in the region.
Gantz thanked Mladenov for his efforts on behalf of regional stability. The defense minister confirmed his belief in improving the life of Gaza’s citizens, while at the same time halting terrorist activity and violence from Hamas. He also said he was committed to the return of the two soldiers’ bodies held by Hamas and the release of the two civilians held hostage.
Meanwhile, Jordan’s King Abdullah II would not specify a date for a meeting requested by Gantz and refused to speak with Netanyahu over the phone, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
The refusal was due to plans by Israel to annex parts of the West Bank in July, a Jordanian official told Ma’an. The king ordered the royal court to not set a date to meet with Gantz, after the defense minister requested a meeting with the king to discuss annexation.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell spoke out against the Trump peace plan, but in softer terms than before, in a press conference following a EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“We recognize the merit of the US plan because it created a certain momentum where there was nothing,” Borrell said. “The momentum can be used to start a political process. But this process from the European side has to be on the basis of internationally agreed [to] parameters… It has been said in several EU statements that the initial plan presented by the US does not agree with these parameters.”
“This may be the starting point of a negotiation,” he said. “Theoretically, a negotiation doesn’t finish at the same point where it starts.”
Borrell said the EU states’ foreign ministers, in their remarks to Pompeo, “were clear about the consequences of possible annexation for the prospects of a two-state solution [and] for regional stability.”
He also acknowledged that member states have different positions on the matter, citing Luxembourg, one of Israel’s biggest critics in the EU, and Hungary, which has vowed to block any punitive action, as examples.
Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani and other settler leaders who oppose the Trump plan – because it allows for a Palestinian state and leaves isolated Israeli settlements as enclaves in that state – asked to attend the Likud faction’s weekly meeting on Monday to discuss sovereignty.
The Likud faction refused the request. The Yamina faction, in response, offered to host the settler leaders, saying it would always provide a home to the settlement movement and its leaders.
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.