Israel has signaled that occupied West Bank annexation controversial plan not imminent as Palestinians gather for renewed protests.
An announcement on Israel‘s planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank was not imminent on Wednesday, the date set by the coalition government to start the widely criticised process, its foreign minister said.
The statement by Gabi Ashkenazi came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government’s discussions with the United States on the annexation plan would continue “in the coming days”, indicating he would miss the self-imposed July 1 target date to begin debate on the controversial issue.
“I reckon there will be nothing today,” Ashkenazi, a member of the centrist Blue and White party that eventually partnered up with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud after three inconclusive elections, told Israel’s Army Radio.
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In a sign of rifts within the coalition over the timing of any unilateral annexation move, which has been fiercely opposed by the Palestinians and most of the international community, Ashkenazi referred further questions on the matter by the interviewer to Netanyahu.
It also came after Benny Gantz, alternate prime minister and defence minister, said this week that annexation must wait until the coronavirus crisis has been contained. Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party, is due to take over as prime minister in November 2021 under the terms of the coalition deal.
Netanyahu may still move forward, either later on Wednesday or in the coming days, with reports in Israeli media suggesting he may announce a symbolic move such as the annexation of one illegal settlement on Jerusalem’s outskirts.
Meanwhile, Palestinians began gathering in Gaza City for a demonstration against the plan with rallies in the West Bank also scheduled for later in the day.
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“For Palestinian officials, annexation is still on the table, whether it happens gradually or delayed for weeks and months,” a analyst said.
“They say this is just one step further of institutionalising and cementing the Israeli occupation.”
Netanyahu has been eager to start the controversial process, which is in line with President Donald Trump’s so-called Middle East plan, by Wednesday.
Unveiled in late January and rejected by the Palestinians, the plan offered a path for Israel to annex territory and Jewish West Bank settlements, communities considered illegal under international law.