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Confusion Clouds Israel’s Vow to ‘Fast-track’ West Bank Annexations

A day after US President Donald Trump unveiled his long-delayed Middle East peace plan, the speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, vowed to “fast-track” any bill on annexing the Jordan Valley and all Jewish communities located in the West Bank. “If you [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] return from Washington and ask to convene the Knesset… to make use of the US administration’s historic willingness and apply Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria [the biblical terms for the areas encompassing the West Bank], I will convene the [full] plenum immediately,” Speaker Yuli Edelstein said. In the aftermath of the proposal’s release on Tuesday, Netanyahu promised to convene his cabinet on Sunday to vote on the matter. However, the date has reportedly been pushed back until mid-week for “technical” reasons. In this respect, one of Netanyahu’s closest confidantes hinted that the Likud would ask the attorney-general to “consider” the matter before any final decision is made. Indeed, a debate is raging in Israel over the wisdom of immediately applying Israeli sovereignty to regions claimed by the Palestinians, with some questioning whether a caretaker government can legally take such a bold step. There also seems to be confusion in Washington, as Jared Kushner – President Trump’s son-in-law, senior adviser and architect of the peace plan – told CNN on Tuesday that he was not made aware of Netanyahu’s intention to quickly push through legislation to this effect. “The hope is that they’ll wait until after the election, and we’ll work with them to try to come up with something,” Kushner said in another interview Wednesday night. When asked point-blank whether the US administration would support Israel moving forward with annexation prior to the March 2 national election, Kushner responded: “No.” This came after the US ambassador to Israel on Wednesday walked back an assertion made the previous day that Jerusalem would be free to move forward as it chooses. Instead, David Friedman qualified that a not-yet-formed joint committee would first need to approve the parameters of any proposed annexation bill to ensure they coincide with the peace plan’s “conceptual map,” a process that both he and Kushner hinted could take months. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Palestinians, who have rejected the proposal, were welcome to make a “counteroffer.”