Netanyahu hints at delay of controversial West Bank annexation

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that his government is still “working” on his West Bank annexation plan, hinting at the postponement of the controversial move.

Speaking a day ahead of July 1, the target date for the beginning of the annexation set by Netanyahu, the prime minister said he met earlier on Tuesday with U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Netanyahu said he discussed with them “the question of sovereignty,” referring to his plan to impose Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, part of the West Bank where the Palestinians wish to build their future state.

He noted his government is “currently working on” the plan and “will continue to work on it in the coming days.”

The remarks were made during a ceremony at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu and his main coalition partner, Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, were at odds over the annexation.

While Netanyahu wants to start the procedure of imposing Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley as early as July 1, Gantz wishes to postpone the move.

On Monday, Gantz, who serves as Israel’s alternate prime minister and defense minister, told a meeting of lawmakers with Blue and White that “anything not related to the struggle against the coronavirus will wait.”

“Before making any political moves, we need to help the public get back to earn a living with dignity,” Gantz said.

A few hours later, Netanyahu dismissed Gantz’s remarks, telling a meeting of lawmakers with his right-wing Likud party that he is working “discretely” with envoys of U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The issue does not depend on Blue and White,” he said, according to local media reports.

Under their power-sharing deal, both Netanyahu and Gantz hold veto power over key government decisions. However, the deal allows Netanyahu to bring an annexation proposal to the cabinet starting July 1, even without Gantz’s approval.

The annexation plan was received with widespread condemnations by the Palestinians, most of the Arab world, and the international community.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Israel on Monday to halt the “illegal” plan.