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Israeli, American officials talk annexation bid amid reports of US intention to slow process

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Donald Trump (2nd L) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alongside US Vice President Mike Pence (C), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (2nd R) and White House adviser Jared Kushner (R) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on January 27, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

Senior Israeli and US officials have discussed Tel Aviv’s highly controversial scheme to annex parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, with reports suggesting that Washington intends to “greatly slow the process” due to a set of domestic issues facing the White House.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a conference call with Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, US Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer.

“The call was cordial and productive,” a senior White House official said. “We do not comment on the substance of private diplomatic conversations.”

Israel’s Channel 13 TV, however, quoted unnamed American sources as saying that US officials were exploring precisely if and how Israel intended to proceed with its unilateral annexation plan and came away from the conversations without a definitive answer.

The report further cited a senior Israeli source as saying that the Americans “want to downplay the enthusiasm” for imminent annexation — “to greatly slow the process” — because the Trump administration is preoccupied, among other matters, with nationwide anti-racism protests as well as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the accompanying economic fallout.

The talks came hours after Israeli minister of military affairs Benny Gantz instructed military chief of staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi to “step up preparations” for the army “ahead of diplomatic efforts on the agenda in the Palestinian arena” — a clear reference to the annexation plot.

Gantz “also updated the chief of staff on advancements on the diplomatic front,” a spokesperson said, without elaborating.

The Israeli minister’s office said he planned to appoint a point-person to coordinate between the different administration bodies involved in the process, adding, “A joint team will be formed that will bring together recommendations — on an operational level — for the efforts that are on the agenda for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

The order followed Gantz's meeting with Friedman, Israeli media reported.

The Tel Aviv regime plans to impose its “sovereignty” over West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley — some 30 percent of the West Bank — amid warnings that it would stoke tensions in the occupied lands and threaten Israel’s ties with Arab countries.

Gantz himself is believed to be against the annexation, but his coalition deal with Netanyahu allows the latter to initiate the relevant legislation from July 1.

Trump gave Tel Aviv the green light for the land grab in his self-proclaimed “deal of the century,” which was unveiled in January with the aim of legitimizing Israel’s occupation and re-drawing the Middle East map.

The US deal calls for the creation of a Palestinian state with limited control over its own security and borders. It also bars Palestinian refugees from returning to their homeland, enshrines Jerusalem al-Quds as “Israel’s undivided capital” and allows the regime to annex settlements and the Jordan Valley.

Palestinian factions as well as the UN, Europe and Arab states have strongly criticized Israel’s illegal push for consolidating its occupation.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to hold “an emergency meeting” in Ramallah on Tuesday night to discuss how to thwart the annexation bid.

He has already severed security ties with Israel and the US.

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