Spotlight: Israel’s intentions on annexation still unknown ahead of deadline

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by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, June 30 (Xinhua) — Days before what could be considered a historic turning point in the Middle East, it is still unclear whether the Israeli government intends to follow through with plans to apply Israeli law over contentious territories in the West Bank and to what extent.

Israel, which captured the territories during the 1967 Mideast War, has refrained until now from annexing the territory while settling it in the past decades with approximately half a million Israelis.

Palestinians see the West Bank as a major part of their future state.

When U.S. President Donald Trump revealed his peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians earlier this year, it was met with great enthusiasm in the Israeli right wing, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For the Palestinians and many other players in the international arena, the plan was a slap in the face and a U-turn from the two-state solution many believe in.

Netanyahu appears determined to move ahead with the plan, brushing aside any criticism. The plan includes leaving many parts of the West Bank under Israel’s control.

But since Netanyahu promised to begin annexation of the territory on July 1 this year, there have been many changes which may delay or modify the move.

The Israeli prime minister leads a coalition government with a certain degree of opposition within its lines. While his partners, the Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz, have voiced their support for the Trump “Deal of the Century,” there are differences of opinion regarding the timing and manner of the implementation of the annexation.

While Netanyahu has made statements that he wants to move ahead with annexation, Gantz tweeted on Monday that “Whatever does not have to do with the coronavirus struggle, will wait until after the virus.”

The power-sharing deal between the two was signed mainly to battle the virus and its after-effects. The agreement stipulates mutual veto-power on all issues brought to a cabinet vote but the annexation. Netanyahu can bring the move to a parliament vote without Gantz’s agreement and will likely have a majority.

Netanyahu is eager to pursue annexation before the upcoming American election which might see his ally Trump lose his seat in the White House. Gantz has been more cautious, calling for annexation only after consultation with other international players.

Trump and Netanyahu find themselves in a minority when pushing for annexation. UN secretary-general, the European Union (EU) and many Arab countries have all voiced their opposition to the planned annexation.

Israeli media outlets reported Netanyahu told his party members Monday that annexation will be delayed due to “various diplomatic and security considerations.”

Israel is also waiting for a decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding its jurisdiction to investigate Israel on war crimes allegations, expected in the coming days. This may be a factor on when Netanyahu will time his announcement on annexation.

“He may choose a phased annexation, first the more consensual settlements and then continue after the U.S. election. This keeps him loyal to his promises while seeing a softer international response,” said Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies,

Regardless of whether Netanyahu decides to annex all the territories or parts of the West Bank, the process will be the beginning of a tectonic shift in the Middle East.

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