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Netanyahu and Gantz try to find consensus on West Bank

What happened: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White ministers Benny Gantz (Defence) and Gabi Ashkenazi (Foreign Affairs), along with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, met for four hours yesterday to discuss extending Israeli law to parts of the West Bank – also referred to as annexation.

  • There is no agreement between the senior Israeli leadership. Netanyahu is reportedly favouring extending sovereignty over all the Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, while Gantz and Ashkenazi are opposed, but could agree to applying sovereignty to the major settlement blocs, the Etzion bloc and Maale Adumim, believing that such a move would not undermine relations with Jordan.
  • Yediot Ahronot quotes “close associates” of the Blue and White leadership who say that, “they had not yet formulated their position”. They support the Trump plan in principle – but on the condition it is implement with international coordination. “Applying sovereignty needs to be done responsibly. It would be better for it to be done as a part of an overall move, and only in coordination with other countries, particularly with Jordan and the US.”
  • Israeli media speculates that there are also differences of opinion within the US administration. Ambassador Friedman supports extensive annexation, while US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is hesitant to give US approval to annexation given the reaction from the Arab world. It is also believed by some in Israel that the window of opportunity to apply Israeli law to the West Bank with the approval from the White House will only last until the end of summer – and not too close to the November elections.
  • Last night at the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Global Forum, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that “the only path to peace in the Middle East is through dialogue and a two-state solution”.

Context: Netanyahu is looking to extend Israeli law to around 30 per cent of the West Bank, including all 132 settlements and the Jordan Valley. According to the coalition agreement with Blue and White, he can advance the plan as early as 1 July. Despite no formal veto, the consent of the Blue and White ministers is important as the US will only support the plan if it is backed by an Israeli consensus.

  • Over the weekend, the political establishment responded to Friday’s article in Yediot Ahronot by Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE ambassador to the US. Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said: “As Ambassador Al Otaiba described so well in his article, in recent years Israel’s relations with the Persian Gulf states have developed in a significantly positive way. But the Palestinian Authority has shut its eyes so as not to take the hint from courageous Arab leaders. As opposed to the Palestinians, Israel will not miss the historic opportunity to apply sovereignty over tracts of the homeland that have a broad consensus in Israeli society.”
  • Labour’s Economy Minister Amir Peretz said: “Unilateral annexation would be an irresponsible act at this time. We will take action to have the Trump plan be the start of a joint regional peace process rather than unilateral measures, which do not serve the interests of the State of Israel.”
  • Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay from Blue and White said: “The article by the Emirati ambassador is further proof that we must consider very seriously the whole matter of applying sovereignty. Everyone who votes in favour or against applying sovereignty will have to do so responsibly, after having understood the security, economic, social and international aspects of this step.”
  • Channel 12 News reported that King Abdullah II of Jordan and Gulf states have sent a message to the White House saying that “greenlighting annexation will severely damage the administration’s efforts to enlist the Gulf states to President Trump’s peace plan and will make them take a step back”.

Looking ahead: With no agreement reached yet, the prime minister, defence and foreign affairs ministers will resume their talks later today with Ambassador Friedman.

  • On Tuesday, Dr. Anwar Gargash, Foreign Minister of the UAE, will address the AJC Global Forum and is expected to discuss his country’s relations with Israel.
  • In an effort to mitigate concerns over annexation, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen will speak in the next few weeks with leaders of Arab states in the region, including Jordan and Egypt.