Israel’s foreign minister suggested that an announcement about the planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank was not imminent on Wednesday, a date set by the Israeli coalition government to begin the widely criticized process.
Gabi Ashkenazi’s statement came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his government’s discussions with the United States over the annexation plan would continue “in the coming days,” indicating that it will be lost. the self-imposed target date of July 1 to start the debate. on the controversial topic.
“I think there will be nothing today,” Ashkenazi, a member of the centrist Blue and White party who eventually partnered with right-wing Likud Netanyahu after three inconclusive elections, told Israel Army Radio Wednesday.
In a sign of divisions within the coalition over the timing of any unilateral annexation movement, which the Palestinians and most of the international community have fiercely opposed, Ashkenazi referred Netanyahu with other questions on the matter.
It also came after Benny Gantz, deputy prime minister and defense minister, said this week that annexation must wait until the coronavirus crisis has been contained. Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party, will take over as prime minister in November 2021 under the terms of the coalition agreement.
Netanyahu can still move forward, either later on Wednesday or in the coming days, with reports in the Israeli media suggesting that he may announce a symbolic move such as the annexation of an illegal settlement outside Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Palestinians began gathering in Gaza City for a demonstration against the plan, with protests in the West Bank also scheduled for later in the day.
“For Palestinian officials, annexation is still on the table, either gradually or delayed for weeks and months,” said Nida Ibrahim of Al Jazeera, reporting from Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority.
“They say this is just one more step to institutionalize and consolidate the Israeli occupation.”
Netanyahu has been eager to start the controversial process, which is in line with President Donald Trump’s so-called Middle East plan on Wednesday.
Revealed in late January and rejected by the Palestinians, the plan offered a way for Israel to annex Jewish territories and settlements in the West Bank, communities considered illegal under international law.
It also proposes the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state in a mosaic of disjointed parts of the Palestinian territories.
Palestinian leaders have said they are ready to renew the long-deadlocked talks with Israel, but not on the terms outlined in Trump’s proposal.
“We will not sit at a table where the US-Israeli plan is on the table,” said Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “This is not a Netanyahu peace plan, it is an annexation, apartheid … and we will not be sitting at any table.”
Hamas, which manages the embattled Gaza Strip, says the Israeli annexations in the West Bank would be a “declaration of war.”
The planned Israeli annexation would deprive Palestinians of agricultural land and key water resources, especially in the Jordan Valley region.
It would also effectively eliminate the likelihood of a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the idea of land for peace.
But many Palestinians would argue that annexation is simply a formality of what has already been going on in the West Bank for years.
Increased settlement construction in recent years, along with Jewish-settler-only roads connecting to Israel, have divided the territory, resulting in non-contiguous Palestinian cities, towns, and villages that now exist in the cantons.
While the United States has offered tacit support for immediate annexation as part of Trump’s plan, most of the international community openly opposes the project.
The UN Secretary-General, the EU and major Arab countries have said that Israeli annexation would violate international law and undermine the goal of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Jordan, one of the two Arab nations that have diplomatic ties to Israel, warned that annexation could trigger a “massive conflict” and has not ruled out revising its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that although he was a “passionate defender of Israel”, he viewed the annexation as “contrary to Israel’s long-term interests”.
“Annexation would represent a violation of international law,” he said.