Israel | National

July 1 ‘not sacred date’ for annexation, Benny Gantz tells US peace plan diplomats

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Defense Minister Benny Gantz of Israel told Trump administration diplomats on Monday that the July 1 date set for starting to annex parts of the West Bank is “not a sacred date.”

Meeting in Israel with Avi Berkowitz, the U.S. special envoy for international negotiations, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Gantz reportedly told the diplomats that dealing with problems stemming from the coronavirus pandemic is more pressing than annexation, the Israeli media reported, citing unnamed Israeli and American sources.

Gantz cited socioeconomic and health issues relating to the pandemic.

Later in the day, the prime minister-designate made a similar comment at a Blue and White party meeting, saying that “anything that is not related to the coronavirus will wait,” the party said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with his Likud party tried to minimize Gantz’s remarks.

“The matter is not up to Blue and White, they are not a factor either way,” he said, The Times of Israel reported. “We are in talks with the U.S. team here in Israel. We are doing it discreetly.”

Berkowitz made the trip to Israel after members of the Trump administration involved in the peace plan met for three days last week to discuss whether and how much to support Israel’s annexation plans. They reportedly did not arrive at a final decision.