Israel says it won't move to annex West Bank before release of Trump plan

Israel says it won't move to annex West Bank before release of Trump plan
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who emerged victorious in last week's elections, made a pre-election pledge to annex the West Bank.
3 min read
18 April, 2019
Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said Netanyahu's promise will be postponed [Getty]

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not follow up on his election pledge to annex West Bank settlements before a US peace plan is released, Israel's UN ambassador said Wednesday.

Netanyahu made the promise during the last days of campaigning for the 9 April vote, raising alarm bells over a move that would kill off prospects for Palestinian statehood.

"I don't think that we will take any action before the plan is published," Ambassador Danny Danon told reporters about the campaign pledge.

"We will wait. We will see the plan. We will engage and I don't know where it will lead us," he said.

Netanyahu did not specify which parts of the West Bank would be annexed, but Israeli sovereignty over a large area would crush Palestinian hope of establishing a state of their own in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Settlements built on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War are deemed illegal by the international community and their ongoing construction is seen as a major barrier to peace.

President Donald Trump's administration is expected to unveil its proposals for Israeli-Palestinian peace possibly in the coming weeks, but Danon noted that Palestinian leaders had already declared the plan "dead on arrival".

He said the plan would be published "in the near future" and suggested that the timing would likely be between May - after the new Israeli government takes office - and November, when the US election season starts.

Israeli press reports have said the plan, which is expected to focus heavily on economic development, could be made public at the end of May or early June.

Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner is the chief architect of the proposals along with lawyer Jason Greenblatt.

The ambassador said that the proposals' fate hinged not only on the Palestinian response but also on the reaction of key Arab countries in the region, such as Egypt and Jordan.

"For the last 71 years the Palestinians have always said 'no'. They choose to say 'no' all the time and we expect it will be the same, and after that, I don't know what will be the role of other partners in the region," he said.

From the Israeli perspective, the US initiative should be a "regional plan" to include Egypt, Jordan "and even more countries" to support the process, he added.

Danon said he did not know whether the US plan will call for a Palestinian state, but he said that should not prevent the Palestinian side from engaging in talks about the proposals.

"The Palestinians try to get the outcome before entering the dialogue. It doesn't work that way," he said. "It's legitimate to demand and to have expectations, but they want their expectations to be approved before the dialogue."

While Netanyahu has a close ties with the US president, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cut off relations with Washington after Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel's capital in December 2017.

More recently, Trump recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a plateau Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

Asked what will happen if the US plan fails to gain any traction, Danon said: "We will be where we are today."

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