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Israel postpones move to annex large parts of West Bank

Joseph Krauss
Associated Press

Jerusalem – Israel has postponed a move to annex large parts of the West Bank, a government minister said Wednesday, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to quickly act on the Trump administration’s Mideast plan despite fierce Palestinian opposition.

Netanyahu had said the Cabinet would vote Sunday on extending Israeli sovereignty to dozens of Jewish settlements as well as the Jordan Valley, a move that risks provoking a harsh backlash from the Palestinians and the international community.

But he appears to have put annexation on hold to explore the legal ramifications and to coordinate it with the United States.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Israel Radio that a Cabinet vote on annexing territories on Sunday was not technically feasible because of various preparations, including the need to consult Israel’s attorney general. Israel has not had a permanent government in a year, following two inconclusive elections, and it’s unclear if a caretaker government can embark on such a move.

David Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, told reporters that a joint U.S.-Israeli committee would need to ensure that the extension of Israeli sovereignty matches up with a “conceptual map” released by the administration showing the borders of a future Palestinian state.

“It is a process that does require some effort, some understanding, some calibration,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate how long that will take. The president did use the word ‘immediately.’”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The Palestinians angrily rejected the Trump plan, which would allow Israel to annex all its settlements in the West Bank while giving the Palestinians limited self-rule over the Gaza Strip, chunks of the West Bank and other far-flung areas linked together by roads, bridges and tunnels. It also grants Israel virtually all of east Jerusalem, including the Old City and holy sites.

The Palestinians view the settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem – territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war – as a major obstacle to peace. That position is held by much of the international community, which views the settlements as illegal.

Levin, a senior member of Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud party, appeared to acknowledge that almost none of the Palestinians’ demands are met in the Trump plan. He said the Palestinian state it envisions is “roughly the same Palestinian Authority that exists today, with authority to manage civil affairs,” but lacking “substantive powers” like border control or a military.

The U.S. initiative appears unlikely to lead to a negotiated solution to the decades-old conflict, but offered a boost to both Trump and Netanyahu, who are each campaigning for re-election under allegations of wrongdoing.