White House urging Netanyahu to refrain from annexation, to wait for plan

US peace team cancels Israel trip

Benjamin Netanyahu announces that if reelected, he will extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, September 10 2019 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Benjamin Netanyahu announces that if reelected, he will extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, September 10 2019
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
The Trump administration has urged Israel to hold back from unilaterally annexing the Jordan Valley, recommending that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wait for the US peace plan instead.
Netanyahu has spoken of Jordan Valley annexation since the summer, and it has been presumed that the Trump administration would support such a move or at the very least not oppose it.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu indicated he is weighing bringing Jordan Valley annexation to the cabinet for a vote on Sunday and then to the Knesset for ratification on Tuesday, where it is expected to easily pass.
A senior administration official, however, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday the US prefers Israel wait for the Trump peace plan, often referred to as the “Deal of the Century.” Recent reports have indicated that the peace plan will be rolled out and unveiled within the coming weeks.
Jared Kushner, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, and Avi Berkowitz, special representative for international negotiations, postponed their trip to Israel and will not arrive as previously scheduled, the Post has confirmed.
Israel Hayom first reported that the US peace team will not travel to Israel. Instead, the team returned to Washington on Air Force 1 together with Trump just hours before they were set to land in Tel Aviv. Trump administration official told the Post the team decided to skip the trip “after their flight was delayed due to weather conditions.”
It was not immediately clear if the peace team is going to reschedule the trip, which was supposed to be a crucial step before making the decision whether to roll out the peace plan before Israel’s elections in March.
The team was supposed to meet in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, as well as other potential meetings with leaders attending the World Holocaust Forum.
Now, the peace plan is yet again thrown into limbo. In the last few days, Kushner and Berkowitz held meetings with Middle East officials to discuss a possible release of the document. Berkowitz also met with other Arab officials in London. It seemed like the most serious push by the peace team to roll out the plan.
Kushner’s team did not provide further information about their plans regarding a possible visit to Israel and regarding the time frame to decide on the plan’s release.
Netanyahu had initially said he would only act on annexation upon formation of a government. But he is under pressure from the right-wing party Yamina headed by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett to take action now. To help force the matter, the party has linked annexation with support for Netanyahu’s quest for parliamentary immunity.
On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour told the UN Security Council that immediate action was needed to halt pending Israeli annexation.
All five European members of the council warned Israel against taking such a step: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Estonia.
UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov tweeted on Wednesday that “the annexation of some or all of Area C in the #WestBank, if implemented, would deal a devastating blow to the potential of reviving #Israeli #Palestinian negotiations, advancing regional #peace, and the essence of the two-state solution. #UN.”
On Wednesday morning prior to reports about the White House’s objections, Netanyahu tweeted about his plans to push forward with annexation.
“I will apply sovereignty on the Jordan Valley,” Netanyahu tweeted.
Shas announced on Wednesday morning that it would support the measure should it come before the Knesset, which is expected to convene on Tuesday to discuss the formation of a committee to deal with the issue of parliamentary immunity for Netanyahu.
“This is a historic opportunity,” Religious Affairs Minister and Shas party head Arye Deri said. “Shas will support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s initiative to apply sovereignty and calls on all parties to do so as well to secure a broad national consensus that will send a strong message to the world that Israel is united on this important issue.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said his party supported the move. It had attempted unsuccessfully to advance a Knesset bill on sovereignty in Judea and Samaria in December, he said, adding that Netanyahu could use his bill.
Liberman urged Netanyahu to include in his initiative places in Area C for the West Bank, such as Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev and Ariel.
He accused Netanyahu of caring about the sovereignty issue only because it played well for him electorally and could shore up legislative support to grant him immunity. Netanyahu could have done it anytime in the last 10 years when he was in power, Liberman said.
Bennett is urging Netanyahu to take action on Jordan Valley sovereignty, even though Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has frowned on the move.
Bennett tweeted: “I call on @netanyahu to bring a government vote this coming Sunday on the matter of Jordan Valley sovereignty, and then bring the order to the Knesset’s approval on Tuesday. Only tangible actions will decide the matter.”
On Monday, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) wrote to Netanyahu to ask if he would take such a step. He suggested that the vote could be held in conjunction with Tuesday’s anticipated vote on the immunity committee.
Rumors that swirled last week that he might act on the matter became more acute on Tuesday when Netanyahu dropped hints about an annexation move prior to the election.
He was spurred not just by Smotrich but also by a trip Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz made to the northern region of the Dead Sea. While there, Gantz told reporters he supported the inclusion of that area and the Jordan Valley within Israel’s sovereign borders but would push the matter only after elections.
Gantz said he did not want to do it unilaterally, only multilaterally with an internationally agreed process. He did not address the international’s community stiff objection to Israeli sovereignty in that area.
Smotrich criticized Gantz’s and Netanyahu’s need for international approval, saying on Army Radio: “It’s kind of like eating steak in coordination with vegan organizations. You don’t have to wait for international approval. You have to set facts on the ground.
“If the Knesset convenes anyway, the proposal can be approved by a large majority as early as Tuesday,” he said. “We have an extraordinary window of opportunity.”
On Tuesday, Netanyahu chided Gantz on twitter to prove that he really supported Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.
“I expect your full support and that of Blue and White for this historic process. I stand you to the test on this very soon,” he said.
Netanyahu dropped a similar hint at a Likud campaign rally in Jerusalem on Tuesday night when he said: “We’ll apply Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea without delay and without any veto by [Joint List MK] Ahmad Tibi.”
Should the matter come to a vote, Netanyahu likely would have the support of Bayit Yehudi, the New Right, Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and United Torah Judaism. That would give him at least 63 votes.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.