Israel Won't Annex West Bank Land Before Trump Plan, Envoy Says

(Bloomberg) -- Israel isn’t likely to take any steps toward annexing West Bank areas before President Donald Trump releases his long-promised Middle East peace plan, United Nations envoy Danny Danon said.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed just before this month’s elections to extend Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, no moves should be expected soon because Israel wants to honor the American peace efforts spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Danon told reporters in New York on Wednesday. The ambassador predicted the plan will come sometime between May and late summer.

“I don’t believe there will be any movement from our side until we see the plan,” Danon said. “We’ll wait, we’ll engage, and then we’ll decide.”

It’s not clear whether Netanyahu intends to carry through on his West Bank promise, or whether it was an election ploy meant to maximize the right-wing support that propelled him to re-election. In making the pledge, Netanyahu fanned the hopes of Israeli nationalists while raising concern throughout the Arab world, which sees the territory as part of a future Palestinian state.

More than 400,000 Jewish settlers and almost 2.9 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.

Israeli leaders have held back from annexations on the West Bank for more than 50 years, well aware of the firestorm of international criticism it would draw if Israel were to claim sovereignty over territory it captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war. It’s been ruled an illegal occupation in repeated UN resolutions. Annexation, whether formal or unofficial, would complicate Israel’s relations with much of the world, including Arab states that have drawn closer over a shared antipathy for Iran.

But with the Trump administration breaking with past conventions, there’s a growing sense within the nationalist camp in Israel that there may be no better time in the future to annex parts of the territory. The Trump administration has recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, territory captured from Syria in the same war, and speculation over whether Trump may accede to some annexation of the West Bank is rife.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said recently that he expects the U.S.’s plan to come out in the “very near future.” Asked whether it’s likely to allow for a Palestinian state -- something U.S. officials have declined to say publicly -- Danon said only that the goal should be to give the “Palestinians maximum freedom without jeopardizing our security.”

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