Israel's Gantz said date for West Bank annexation talks 'not sacred': party source

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s top coalition partner Benny Gantz said on Monday that a July 1 target date to begin discussing proposed annexation of occupied West Bank land was “not sacred”, a source in Gantz’s party said.

The remarks, which the source said Gantz made during a meeting with U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and White House adviser Avi Berkowitz, threw doubt on prospects for a unified Israeli approach to President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Washington wants Gantz on board for the plan, which envisages Israel annexing Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, and a Palestinian state established under strict conditions elsewhere in the West Bank.

With the Palestinians boycotting the plan, however, Netanyahu and Gantz had agreed in a deal under which they formed a coalition government last month that a cabinet debate on annexation could begin as of July 1.

“Gantz made clear in the meeting that July 1 is not a sacred date” and voiced preference for Israel dealing with the economic ravages of the coronavirus crisis, a source in his centrist Blue and White party said.

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Briefing reporters last week, Gantz — who serves as Israel’s defence minister, as well as alternate prime minister — predicted that the coronavirus crisis could last 18 months.

Hailing the Trump plan as an “historic move”, Gantz told the U.S. envoys that it should be advanced “with strategic partners in the region and with the Palestinians, and to reach an arrangement that benefits all side,” the source said.

The U.S. embassy spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

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