JERUSALEM, Israel – An official from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party said on Wednesday that the cabinet will not move to annex all West Bank settlement communities and the Jordan Valley on Sunday, a reversal of what Netanyahu told reporters on Tuesday.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Army Radio the vote to extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and the Jordan Valley would be moved due to “technical reasons” and that the decision requires “preparation time and work on the various documents.”
Levin said the cabinet must also wait to hear from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on the matter. Mandelblit said Tuesday night that he may allow a transitional government to approve an annexation.
“My point of view is that I need to help the government implement its policy and that has rules — restraint must be maintained during a transitional government,” the attorney general said. “If a request will be filed, I will examine it from a legal perspective,” he added. “I don’t rule out anything. I will hear what the request is and what the explanation is for the urgency, and I will decide on that basis.”
Netanyahu vowed to annex West Bank settlement communities in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria after President Donald Trump released his long-awaited peace plan on Tuesday. In exchange, he must cease expanding these neighborhoods for a period of four years. He also promised to annex the Jordan Valley, where some 8,100 Israeli Jews and 52,950 Palestinians live according to official Israeli and Palestinian surveys from 2017 and 2018.
“This plan is a historical breakthrough with many achievements that we never thought possible, including the immediate American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea [area], which means that Israel will once and for all establish its eastern border,” said Netanyahu.
Netanyahu wants to annex Area C – where Israel maintains full security control – in the Jordan Valley. It would not include Jericho where most Palestinians in the region live.
Netanyahu’s chief rival, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, has also vowed to annex the Jordan Valley if he beats Netanyahu in the upcoming national election on March 2 – the third national election in less than a year. Gantz said he plans to start implementing the details of Trump’s peace plan, including the settlements, after the March election.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Tuesday that Israel does not have to wait to start extending its sovereignty over the Israeli settlement communities.
"Israel does not have to wait at all," he said. "The waiting period would be the time it takes for them to obtain internal approvals and to obviously create the documentation, the calibration [and] the mapping that would enable us to evaluate and make sure it’s consistent with the conceptual map.”
"When you see the map, you'll see the map is on a scale of about 100,000 to 1," said Friedman. "So you really can’t do anything that generalized. Israel will have to go through its own process, whatever that process is. I’m not an expert. And if they determine that they wish to apply Israeli law to those allocated to Israel, we will recognize it."
A study released Monday by a leading Israeli think tank reveals that nearly half of all Jewish Israelis oppose a unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank.
According to the Institute for National Security Studies, 45 percent of Jewish Israelis are against unilateral annexation, 26 percent support annexing existing Israeli settlement communities, 14 percent support annexing all areas around Israeli settlement communities, 8 percent support annexing Area C, and 7 percent support annexing the entirety of the West Bank.
Palestinians overwhelmingly oppose annexation because they view the West Bank territories as the heartland for a future Palestinian state.