July 1 is “not a sacred date” for Israel to take the first steps toward annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday.
Gantz, who also serves as alternate prime minister, made the remark in a meeting with United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and visiting officials of President Donald Trump’s administration, a source close to the leader of the centrist Israeli Blue and White party told dpa.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged to begin the process of annexing parts of the West Bank as early as Wednesday, July 1. Palestinians see the territory as part of their future state.
But the Jerusalem Post quoted United States sources as saying that Israel will not take steps this week to extend its sovereignty over the area, which Israel has occupied since 1967.
Plans have not been finalised, the newspaper reported.
Instead of presenting a strategy, the newspaper reports that Netanyahu is considering only making a statement on the topic on Wednesday.
His spokesman would not comment.
The Trump administration officials met with Netanyahu on Saturday night and are scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Tuesday.
Trump himself has not yet weighed in on the matter.
While Netanyahu, of the right-wing Likud party, wants far-reaching annexation, Gantz and Foreign Minister Ashkenazi, of the Blue and White alliance, have expressed more caution.
In a Facebook post on Friday, Gantz pledged not to “apply Israeli law in places with many Palestinians, or in which their movement would be hurt.” Palestinians who do live on land over which Israel plans to apply sovereignty will have equal rights, he promised.
Under an April coalition agreement between the Likud and Blue and White,
Netanyahu may bring proposals on annexation before the Israeli cabinet or parliament for a vote as early as July 1.
The proposals are based on Trump’s controversial Middle East plan unveiled in January.
The plan would give Israel sovereignty over some 30 per cent of the West Bank, while Palestinians, who have furiously rejected the plan, would be left with a discontiguous state on the remaining 70 per cent.
All of Israel’s settlements are included in the 30 per cent allocated to it by Trump.
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967.
Before that, it was annexed by Jordan following the 1948-49 war that followed Israel’s creation.
Settlements Council head David Elhayani on Monday called on Netanyahu to keep his election promises to the settlers.
“You promised sovereignty. Don’t hesitate,” Elhayani said on public radio.
A fountain on a square in central Israel named after Trump, meanwhile, spurted fake blood on Monday morning, after vandals poured red dye into the waters to protest the United States-backed annexation plans.
“Annexation will cost us in blood,” was spray-painted in red letters next to the fountain on Donald Trump square in Petah Tikva, named after the United States president last year in honour of his 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Police were investigating who was behind the protest.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet meanwhile warned Israel against going ahead with the annexation.
“The shock waves of annexation will last for decades,” High Commissioner Bachelet said in a statement from Geneva.
Edited By: Emmanuel Yashim (NAN)