Israel Downplays Disagreement with US Over Annexation Schedule

Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner departs after U.S. President Donald Trump delivered joint remarks with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2020. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts

Israel sought to downplay on Thursday what appeared to be a disagreement with the Trump administration over the timing of annexations as called for in the Mideast peace plan released on Tuesday.

Earlier on Thursday, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, the plan’s chief architect, told an interviewer that he hoped Israel would wait until after the March 2 elections to begin annexations. That seemed at odds with a planned Cabinet meeting next week to vote on the matter, in line with a statement made by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman that Israel “does not have to wait” to begin the process.

On the other hand, Kushner’s remarks suggested a lot of waiting. “We’ve agreed with them on forming a technical team to start studying taking the conceptual map. The Jordan Valley can mean a lot of different things,” Kushner said, citing an example. “I think we’d need an Israeli government in place in order to move forward,” he added.

“There is no argument over substance. There is only a minor technical issue,” a senior Israeli official was quoted as saying in media reports on Thursday evening.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Israel wanted to carry out the annexation in one, two or possibly three stages — first the Jordan Valley and the settlements, and their immediate surroundings later.

“The Americans don’t want to do it in several rounds, because they don’t want to extend recognition several times. They want to do it one time,” the official told reporters on Netanyahu’s flight from Moscow to Tel Aviv.

“Trump will recognize” Israel’s right to annex all territories the peace plan envisions as being part of Israel, he said. “This is a technical issue only,” he stressed.

“There is no application of Israeli law without maps. As soon as all the maps are ready, we will present them to the Americans.”

Friedman had also clearly stipulated that any such measures would have to be approved by a U.S.-Israel committee to be formed for the purpose.

In other words, Israel can proceed immediately to decide what it wants to do, but implementation will have to wait for a process of review.

However, the official noted, delineating the exact boundaries is a complicated undertaking. “It may even take a long time,” he cautioned. Asked if Israel will apply sovereignty over any part of Yehuda and Shomron, he merely replied: “Patience.”

The official also did not respond when asked if there was a misunderstanding regarding the timing of the annexation.

He also chastised reporters for focusing on relatively minor points and ignoring the “huge achievements” of the peace plan.

“We worked on this plan for three years. There were literally hundreds of meetings. This is the best possible deal for Israel,” he asserted.

A Likud official also indicated that the process will likely not be completed overnight or in a single vote. “The PMO is working hard to prepare the [sovereignty cabinet] decision. This is complex work that includes maps and aerial photographs. We hope to complete it as soon as possible.”

On the Israeli right wing there was anxiety over possible delays in carrying out annexations.

“This is a once-in-52-year opportunity to apply sovereignty,” said Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked.

“If we delay it now, who knows when we’ll get another chance.”

She said her party will work to ensure that annexation is brought to a cabinet vote next week.

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