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Netanyahu Ally: W.Bank Annexation Delay07/01 06:18


   JERUSALEM (AP) -- A confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed 
that the Israeli leader's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank would 
not start on Wednesday, the original target date, as the British prime minister 
made an extraordinary appeal to Israel to call off the plan.

   The developments cast further uncertainty over whether Israel will 
ultimately follow through on the explosive annexation initiative, which has 
drawn fierce international condemnations from some of Israel's closest allies.

   Speaking on Israel's Army radio station, Cabinet minister Ofir Akunis 
confirmed that the annexation process would not begin on Wednesday, saying that 
officials were still working out the final details with their American 
counterparts. He said he expected the annexation to take place later in July.

   "Coordination with the American administration is not something that can be 
dismissed," he said.

   Netanyahu had aimed to start the process by Wednesday, saying he wants to 
begin annexing West Bank territory in line with President Donald Trump's 
Mideast plan. The plan, unveiled in January, envisions bringing some 30% of the 
territory under permanent Israeli control, while giving the Palestinians 
limited autonomy in carved-up pockets of the remaining land.

   But the plan has come under stiff international criticism. The United 
Nations, the European Union and key Arab countries have all said Israel's 
annexation would violate international law and undermine the already diminished 
prospects of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state alongside 
Israel. Even close allies, like Britain, have opposed it.

   In a front-page article in the Yediot Ahronot daily, one of Israel's largest 
newspapers, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote that as a "passionate 
defender of Israel," he was particularly troubled by its intentions. He noted 
his long links to Israel, dating back to when volunteered on a kibbutz as an 
18-year-old and his "many visits" since then.

   "As a life-long friend, admirer and supporter of Israel, I am fearful that 
these proposals will fail in their objective of securing Israel's borders and 
will be contrary to Israel's own long-term interests," Johnson wrote, adding 
that annexation "would put in jeopardy" the gains Israel has made in recent 
years in improving relations with the Arab world.

   "I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead. If it does, the UK 
will not recognize any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between 
both parties," he said.

   Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. The 
international community considers the territory occupied land, and Israel's 
more than 120 settlements there illegal. The Palestinians, who seek all of the 
West Bank as part of a future state, have rejected the Trump plan.

   Several thousand Palestinians marched in Gaza City for a "day of rage" on 
Wednesday to protest the annexation plans, one of several demonstrations that 
were expected in Palestinian areas. The protesters waved Palestinian flags and 
held signs calling the plan a "declaration of war" on the Palestinian people. 
The rally ended peacefully by the early afternoon.

   While building scores of settlements that are now home to nearly 500,000 
Israelis, Israel has never tried to annex West Bank territory before, saying 
the area is "disputed" and that its final status should be settled through 
negotiations. The international community considers the area occupied and its 
settlements to be illegal.

   Netanyahu has defended his annexation plan on both security and religious 
grounds and says the friendly Trump administration has provided a rare 
opportunity to redraw Israel's borders. He is eager to move forward before 
November's U.S. presidential election, especially with Trump's re-election 
prospects in question, and made sure that the coalition agreement for his new 
government included the July 1 date for him to introduce a plan to parliament.

   But beyond the international opposition, Netanyahu has encountered some 
resistance from his Blue and White governing partners. Blue and White's leader, 
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, this week said Wednesday's target date was not 
"sacred" and suggested that annexation can wait while the government grapples 
with Israel's coronavirus crisis.

   U.S. officials have said they do not want to move forward with a plan unless 
the two leaders are in agreement. Israeli media also reported that Israel is 
seeking changes in a proposed U.S. map for annexation, and that American 
officials are demanding an Israeli gesture to the Palestinians as compensation 
for any annexation that takes place.

   Dovish Israeli groups have been holding street protests against the 
annexation plan and it has also encountered surprising opposition from some of 
the West Bank settlers themselves, who fear having to recognize a de facto 
Palestinian state and find themselves engulfed in isolated enclaves.

   The majority of them, however, are pressuring Netanyahu to follow through, 
launching a campaign titled, "you made a promise --- keep it."

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