Coronavirus resurgence sidelines Israel's annexation plans

Benjamin Netanyahu is preoccupied with new coronavirus infections that aides say may result in renewed lockdowns

Palestinian women chant slogans and flash the victory sign as they demonstrate against Israeli plans for the annexation of parts of the West Bank, in Gaza City, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
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A coronavirus resurgence in Israel and divisions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have sidelined its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, officials said.

Mr Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz, his centrist coalition partner, agreed the government could begin moving on annexation as of July 1.

But there has been “close to zero” Cabinet-level discussion on the matter, a senior minister said.

There has been no agreement with Washington on details of the move under a peace proposal announced by President Donald Trump, so any step soon to extend Israeli sovereignty to illegal Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley is unlikely.

The Palestinians have rejected Mr Trump's plan. European and Arab powers have warned of diplomatic response if Israel annexes land the Palestinians seek for a state.

Mr Netanyahu is preoccupied with new coronavirus transmissions that aides said could result in renewed lockdowns.

Unemployment has hit a record 21 per cent and anti-government protests have turned violent.

A poll by the independent Israel Democracy Institute on Tuesday found only 29.5 per cent of the public trusted Mr Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis.

There has been open opposition from Mr Gantz’s Blue and White party, which made it hard to persuade Washington that annexation would be supported by most Israelis.

“It’s a matter of right plan, wrong time,” a senior Blue and White minister said.

“We are in the middle of the biggest crisis Israel has seen in decades and it would be irresponsible and insensitive to tend to anything else at the moment.”

Mr Gantz has predicted the crisis could last until late 2021.

Another official said more than a week had passed since Israeli delegates last spoke to US envoys on annexation under the Trump blueprint, which envisages Israeli sovereignty over up to 30 per cent of West Bank land.

Mr Netanyahu’s office said it had “no updates at this time”.

Several ministers from his Likud party want the move implemented immediately.

Some privately voiced concern that Mr Trump’s attention would drift as the November presidential election approached, and that Democratic candidate Joe Biden has spoken against annexation.