US Ambassador meets Netanyahu, Gantz as annexation deadline approaches

Ambassador David Friedman meets with Israeli leaders as tensions mount related to annexation of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman met Sunday with Israeli leaders to discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to apply sovereignty to Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.

Friedman met with Netanyahu, in addition to Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White Party, along with Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a senior Netanyahu loyalist in the Likud Party.

It was the second such meeting in an attempt to reach an agreement between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Gantz’s Blue and White on a blueprint for Israel’s application of sovereignty, which Netanyahu has said he wants to start on July 1.

One option leaked to the news last week begins with a first stage during which Israel will apply sovereignty to three key settlement blocks: Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim and Ariel. That plan received the backing of the mayor of Efrat, the largest town in Gush Etzion, although other settler leaders are opposed to the move as part of President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which includes a future Palestinian state.

In a key step, Israeli authorities are preparing to carry out a census of the Palestinians who are also living in the planned annexation areas and will fall under Israeli sovereignty. The purpose of the headcount is to get an accurate estimate of the population in order to prevent more Palestinians from moving to territories to be annexed to Israel in order to gain Israeli residency status or even citizenship.

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Arab countries have spoken out publicly against the annexation plan, saying it threatens the future of the two-state solution, a concept that has traditionally served as the centerpiece of the Middle East peace process. Criticism has also come from Israel’s key Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state.

On Friday the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S. wrote an op-ed in Israel’s Yediot Aharonoth newspaper warning Israelis that annexation would have negative consequences. Yousef Al-Otaiba also posted a video on Facebook in which he called on the Israeli people to think twice about the move, which he said would jeopardize the progress Israel has made to date in the Arab world.