Jerusalem and Washington are expected to coordinate their decision on where and when Israel will extend its laws in the West Bank next week, a source with knowledge of the talks between the sides told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
July 1, the first day on which the coalition agreement allowed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring sovereignty to a vote, passed without any progress on that front, as was expected.
“Netanyahu continues in talks with the Americans and had a discussion today with the National Security Council head and security chiefs in the framework of a number of discussions on the matter. More discussions will take place in the coming days,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office read.
US Special Envoy for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and Scott Leith of the UN National Security Council headed back to Washington after meetings with Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
Berkowitz is expected to bring his findings from the trip to Jared Kushner, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, who will then weigh in and present the situation to the president.
Trump, who has not been directly involved in Middle East peace matters in recent months, is then expected to make his final decision on the matter, which will likely happen next week.
Similarly, Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said that Israel will annex portions of the West Bank in July but only after the president has made a statement on the matter.
Israeli application of sovereignty “will only happen after a declaration by Trump,” Akunis told Army Radio, emphasizing that this would be a new one, that would be issued from the US.
Such a Trump declaration was initially scheduled for the end of last week, but was then delayed, and Israel is waiting for it to be rescheduled before it takes any action, Akunis said.
Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, spoke of an announcement on Israeli annexation last week that never happened.
As for what Trump is likely to announce, Axios reported that he has soured on Kushner’s advice, because his son-in-law and adviser has been too liberal and hurt him politically. The site quoted a source as saying the president wants “no more of Jared’s woke s***,” woke being a slang term for progressive or politically correct. Kushner is thought to favor a more gradual sovereignty move by Israel. The article focused mostly on criminal justice reform, but allowing Israel to extend its sovereignty is strongly opposed by the Left worldwide, which is one way in which it could appeal to Trump.
Gantz’s statements that the government should only work on things that have to do with coronavirus and the related economic downturn at this point is not a deal-breaker for the US, an American source said, though they believe it would give the move greater longevity and US support when Trump is no longer president.
The coalition deal allows Netanyahu to bring sovereignty to a cabinet or Knesset vote – either one is enough to extend Israeli law to territory that was part of the British Mandate for Palestine – without Gantz’s approval.
It was still unclear on Wednesday whether Netanyahu would seek to apply sovereignty to the 30% of the West Bank stipulated in the Trump peace plan – including all settlements and the Jordan Valley – or to a smaller part of it. Gantz sought to limit the move to the major settlement blocs, but Netanyahu emphasized sovereignty over Bet El and Shiloh, both biblical cities that are not in the blocs, in a speech to Christians United For Israel this week.
Akunis pushed back at reports that the Jordan Valley would not be included in an Israeli sovereignty plan. He noted that it has long been planned to be part of Israel’s sovereign borders dating back to the Allon Plan, put forward in 1967 immediately after the Six Day War by Yigal Allon, an IDF general and Labor Party leader, who later served as acting prime minister.
“Of course it has to be in [the sovereignty plan],” Akunis said.
But many of the conversations between the American and Israeli sides have not been about sovereignty but have focused on the Palestinians’ status.
The US has encouraged Israel to give the Palestinian Authority greater control over Palestinian parts of Area C that would not be part of Israel under the Trump plan, though the IDF would still be able to secure those areas. Among the ideas discussed was not requiring IDF approval for Palestinian construction.
Ashkenazi told Berkowitz he wants Israel to make more of an effort to negotiate and coordinate with the Palestinians, in addition to talking with Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf states.
Also on Wednesday, Australia expressed its concerns for the first time over the possibility that Israel may extend its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, in a statement from Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
“We are following with concern possible moves towards the unilateral annexation or change in status of territory on the West Bank,” Payne stated. “The focus needs to be on a return to direct and genuine negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for a durable and resilient peace arrangement, as soon as possible.”
Payne said she directly expressed this view to Ashkenazi.
This was the first public statement on the matter from the Australian government, which is very supportive of Israel, though former officials and the Australian Labor Party condemned possible sovereignty moves in recent days.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a plea to the Israeli government not to annex parts of the West Bank and to instead return to the negotiating table.
“There is another way,” Johnson wrote in Yediot Aharonot, pushing for the renewal of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis.
“While I understand the frustration felt by both sides, it is our duty to take advantage of the energy of this moment in order to return another time to the negotiating table and to strive for a solution. This will demand compromises from both sides,” Johnson said.
“I still believe that the only way to achieve true and lasting security for Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, is through a solution that allows for justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians,” the British prime minister wrote. “The only way to achieve this is for both sides to return to the negotiating table. This must be our goal. Annexation will only distance us from it.”
Senator Bernie Sanders joined an anti-annexation letter spearheaded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, threatening to cut US assistance to Israel should it move forward with its plan to annex parts of the West Bank. Sanders is the only senator to sign the letter, alongside 12 House Democrats, including Rashida Tlaib, Betty McCollum, Pramila Jayapal and Ilhan Omar.
“Israel’s annexation of occupied territory would be a disaster for international law, self-determination, freedom, and equality,” Sanders tweeted on Tuesday. “I stand with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House progressives. We cannot allow US tax dollars to be used to violate Palestinians’ human rights.”
The letter that was sent on Tuesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urges the Trump administration not to green-light the move, warning that “it would lay the groundwork for Israel becoming an apartheid state.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated his country’s position that “an annexation decision could not be left without consequences and we are examining different options at a national level and also in coordination with our main European partners.”
Jerusalem Post Staff and Reuters contributed to this report.