By Abimbola Ogunnaike with agency report
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the occupied Palestinian territory seems to be in jeopardy as key coalition partner, Benny Ganz and a group of US lawmakers opposed the move.
It would be recalled that Netanyahu has set July 1 as the date to begin moving forward with the plan to impose the Israel regime’s “sovereignty” over about a third of the West Bank, including settlements and the fertile Jordan Valley.
As the deadline draws close, Israeli minister of military affairs Benny Gantz, who heads the Blue and White party, suggested on Monday that the annexation plan should be postponed while Israel is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
Gantz said fighting the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout should take precedence over any political decisions regarding the West Bank.
In a broadcast remark, Gantz told members of his centrist party that “what is not corona-related will wait until the day after the virus,” estimating that the health crisis could last another 18 months.
Reacting to Gantz’s comments, Netanyahu told a group of legislators from his right-wing Likud party on Monday that the coalition partner, Blue and White political alliance, was “not a factor” in deciding whether the annexation bid would go ahead as planned.
Netanyahu said that he was conducting discreet talks with an American diplomatic team on the issue.
“We are in talks with the US team here in Israel,” he said. “We are doing it discreetly. The matter is not up to Blue and White; they are not a factor either way.”
Elsewhere in his Monday comments, Netanyahu admitted the “complicated” nature of the West Bank annexation, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported.
“I have a positive and topical line of communication with the Americans and when I have something to report, I’ll report [it],” he said. “This is a complicated process with lots of diplomatic and security considerations that I can’t get into. We said that [annexation] would be after July 1.”
US President Donald Trump gave Israel the green light for the land grab in his self-proclaimed “deal of the century,” which was unveiled in January with the aim of legitimizing Israel’s occupation and re-drawing the Middle East map.
However, the US has remained undecided on whether to formally support the annexation measure sought by Netanyahu under the current circumstances.
A senior White House official told NBC News on Sunday that Friedman, Berkowitz and Leigh held several days of meetings in Washington that also involved Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser on the matter.
The discussions, which took place prior to the trio’s trip to Israel, were “productive” but inconclusive, he said, alluding to concerns about how the Israeli annexation could affect Trump’s Middle East plan.
In another development on Monday, a group of US lawmakers raised concern about the planned annexation, calling for using a “combination of pressure and incentives” to prevent it, including imposing conditions on American military aid to Israel.
The letter addressed to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is signed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as well as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Betty McCollum of Minnesota.
“Unilateral annexation in the West Bank would alienate US lawmakers and citizens. We cannot support an undemocratic system in which Israel would permanently rule over a Palestinian people denied self-determination or equal rights,” the letter read.
“Should the Israeli government move forward with the planned annexation with this administration’s acquiescence, we will work to ensure non-recognition as well as pursue conditions on the $3.8 billion in US military funding to Israel, including human rights conditions,” it added.
The letter also threatened “withholding funds for the off-shore procurement of Israeli weapons equal to or exceeding the amount the Israeli government spends annually to fund settlements, as well as the policies and practices that sustain and enable them.”