Senior source to 'Post': If Israel annexes, it will annex all settlements

Hotovely says differentiating major blocs from other settlements “will never pass.”

Settlement of Elon Moreh, near Nablus, West Bank, June 11, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Settlement of Elon Moreh, near Nablus, West Bank, June 11, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel has not proposed to extend sovereignty to part of the settlements or to move forward in stages, a source involved in the matter said on Thursday.
The US-Israel mapping committee is still working on outlining all settlements and the Jordan Valley, making up 30% of the West Bank, which would be part of sovereign Israel according to US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
The source denied media reports that Israel has moved to a phased annexation plan and proposed to only annex Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion in the short term.
Settlements Minister Tzipi Hotovely, a member of the mapping committee, similarly told Army Radio that “all the maps published have no connection to reality” and that a differentiation between major settlement blocs and other settlements “will never pass.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu originally planned a different kind of phased annexation, immediately after Trump presented his plan in the White House on January 28. Netanyahu’s political spokesman tweeted that there would be a cabinet vote on settlement annexation within days, and sources close to the prime minister briefed journalists that the vote would only be on the settlements, with a later vote on the exact 30% of the West Bank on a later date.
However, the White House pushed back against the idea, seeking one vote on the sovereignty the plan proposed, and soon after the US-Israel mapping committee came into being. Netanyahu’s spokesman deleted the tweet.
US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman is expected to meet with Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to discuss the matter on Sunday.
Asked at a press conference on Thursday night whether now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, is the best time for extending Israeli law to more land, Netanyahu said he is holding discussions “with the American government and within my own government,” and “trying to reach the optimal result.”
“The less I talk about it now, the greater chance we’ll get the best result... for Israel in applying sovereignty in our homeland,” he said, calling the Trump plan “historic.”
Netanyahu has said in his public remarks that he wants to move forward with annexation in the coming weeks. Gantz and Ashkenazi have been more circumspect, saying generally positive things about the Trump plan, but emphasizing the importance of maintaining peace with Egypt and Jordan, the latter of which has voiced strong opposition to Israel extending its laws to any part of the West Bank.
Hotovely referred to these differences, saying “there is no agreed-upon map, but there are many outlines.
“There are two schools of thought on the American side, too,” she added, an apparent reference to Friedman who is more in favor of sovereignty, and Trump’s Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, who has reportedly cooled on the idea.
US officials have repeatedly and publicly said it is Israel’s decision whether to adopt the plan or not, and are seeking a buy-in from Gantz to move forward.
The source with knowledge of US-Israel talks on applying sovereignty said that there is not a lot of distance between Gantz and Netanyahu’s positions, and that both are being deliberative and weighing the cost and benefits of moving forward with the plan.
Having Gantz on board, even though Netanyahu has a majority in favor of annexation without him, would show the plan has broad support, according to Trump administration thinking. Such support would give the move more longevity and make it less likely that presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden could easily reverse it.
Gantz spoke with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell on Thursday.
The alternate prime minister told Borrell he is “committed to promoting the peace process,” and emphasized that he wants an “open dialogue with the European community and regional partners.” He also said he “will do all it takes to protect Israel’s security.”
Borrell has repeatedly criticized Israel for considering extending its laws to parts of the West Bank, despite a lack of unanimity among EU member states in approval of the statements he has released.
In the statements, Borrell has said that annexation goes against international law and the EU will not let it stand without a response.
While the EU has not made specific threats to Israel, there are a number of areas in which EU-Israel ties can be weakened if the government proceeds with annexation, such as the multi-billion euro Horizon program for scientific cooperation, which is up for renewal next year.
However, formal sanctions are not on the table, because they require unanimity and some member states have ruled them out.
Though Israel has yet to make decisions about whether and how to proceed with annexation, Belgium, one of the EU countries that is least friendly to Israel, began in recent days to discuss measures in response.
Last week, the Belgian Chamber of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee approved a motion to support EU economic sanctions on Israel if Israel proceeds with annexation, which passed with an easy majority and is likely to pass in the plenary. The decision would not be binding, as the EU sets trade policy.
The same committee voted in favor of another measure this week to recognize a Palestinian state, which passed by one vote, and is less likely to be approved by the plenary.
Sweden is the only EU country to recognize a Palestinian state in recent years, though other parliaments called on their governments to do so. Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic and Slovakia recognized a Palestinian state when they were in the Soviet sphere and officially never reversed the decision.
Belgium currently has a caretaker tasked only with responding to the coronavirus pandemic, so parliamentary decisions are more significant than in a time that there is a majority-backed government.
Israeli diplomats in Brussels plan to appeal to the Belgian Right and centrists to oppose the motions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg on Thursday. Among the topics discussed were the Trump peace plan; Austria is one of the countries that has consistently come out against EU statements condemning Israel before a decision is made on annexation.
They also discussed “efforts to hold Iranian terrorism proxy Hezbollah accountable for its malign activities in Europe,” according to a State Department readout.
Gantz and Borrell also discussed the need to take action to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.
The alternate prime minister called on the EU “to promote an assertive policy and act to continue the arms embargo on the Iranian regime.”
Gantz spoke with his US counterpart, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, on Thursday evening, for the first time since assuming office.
They reviewed shared interests on regional security concerns, with an emphasis on the necessity to halt the Iranian threat, as well as opportunities to build a more stable and prosperous Middle East.
Gantz, who served as Defense Attache to the United States and Chief of Staff of the IDF, highlighted the strategic and steadfast defense relationship between the two countries, “lauding the countries’ ironclad” military-to-military cooperation, and pledged to strengthen the US-Israel defense partnership.
Esper congratulated Gantz on “his leadership role in the newly formed Israeli government,” and the two committed to meeting in person at the earliest opportunity.  

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.