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Israel's annexation plans 'may still be revealed in July' as US officials meet

Despite pushback from various countries and spiraling coronavirus cases, Israeli government could move forward with illegal scheme
Jared Kushner (R) and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino step off Air Force One upon arrival at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland (AFP)

US officials are reportedly meeting on Wednesday to discuss Israel's delayed annexation plans, which could yet be revealed in July.

According to a source familiar with the White House team's discussions speaking to the Jerusalem Post, moves to annex parts of the occupied West Bank were “still possible” this month.

This comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition partner Benny Gantz last week said that all issues not related to coronavirus could wait until the pandemic was under control, taken as an indication that annexation would be pushed back.

Netanyahu had initially set 1 July as the date when it could reveal draft annexation legislation. In Israel's sights are the Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea and illegal settlement blocs, together making up around a third of the Palestinian territory.

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However, the prime minister's office made no announcement on that day as expected, but said talks were continuing with US officials and Israeli security chiefs.

The White House team, led by Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, is set to have a series of discussions following a visit to Israel last week by Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and National Security Council member Scott Leith.

Unilateral annexation of occupied territory is illegal under international law, however the Trump administration in January encouraged the move as part of its so-called "deal of the century" scheme to address the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Under that plan, though, annexation would only be carried out in conjunction with moves to establish an "independent" Palestinian rump state.

The Palestinians have rejected the proposal and voiced outrage at Israel's proposed annexation.

'Consequences'

On Tuesday, the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan urged Israel to abandon its plans, warning such action could have "consequences" for relations.

"We concur that any annexation of Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would be a violation of international law and imperil the foundations of the peace process," the ministers said in a statement after a joint video conference.

The EU has in recent weeks mounted a diplomatic campaign against annexation, highlighted by a visit to Jerusalem by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, to raise concern about the prospective plans. 

But the bloc cannot threaten Israel with formal sanctions without unanimous support among members. 

After occupying the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war, Israel began establishing a network of settlements the following decade. Construction continues to this day.

Despite being viewed as illegal under international law, the settler population has jumped by 50 percent over the past decade to around half a million.