Israel’s defence minister has urged the military to hasten preparations for the country’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank, in apparent anticipation of what could be fierce Palestinian protests against the move.
The statement by Benny Gantz came as Israeli media reported that prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed annexation on Monday in a call with Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser who stands behind a White House Middle East plan that largely favours Israel.
In a statement sent by his office, Mr Gantz appeared to command the military to prepare for the fallout from annexation, asking the military chief of staff to “speed up the (military’s) preparedness ahead of political steps on the agenda in the Palestinian sphere”.
Mr Gantz also serves as “alternate” prime minister until he is expected to replace Mr Netanyahu late next year under a powersharing agreement that ended more than a year of political turmoil.
Beyond the protests that any step towards annexation could spark, the move also risks unravelling burgeoning Israeli ties with Gulf Arab states.
One of those countries, the United Arab Emirates, called on Israel to halt its plan to annex parts of the West Bank – joining a long list of Arab nations that have condemned the expected move.
The UAE’s foreign minister Anwar Gargash said on Twitter that annexing lands sought by the Palestinians would harm the chances of regional peace.
“Any unilateral Israeli move will be a serious setback for the peace process,” he wrote.
He added that annexation would “constitute a rejection of the international & Arab consensus towards stability & peace”.
Mr Netanyahu has announced he will annex parts of the West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley and dozens of Jewish settlements, in line with Mr Trump’s Middle East plan.
He has signalled he will begin moving forward with annexation next month.
The US plan envisions leaving about a third of the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, under permanent Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians expanded autonomy in the remainder of the territory.
The Palestinians, who seek all of the West Bank as part of an independent state, have rejected the plan, saying it unfairly favours Israel.
The annexation plan has come under harsh criticism from some of Israel’s closest allies, who say that unilaterally redrawing the Middle East map would destroy any lingering hopes for establishing a Palestinian state and reaching a two-state peace agreement.
The UAE is among a group of Gulf Arab countries who do not have official diplomatic relations with Israel, but maintain close behind-the-scenes contacts. The countries are expected to play a key role in any potential Trump peace initiative in the region.
Saudi Arabia, another influential Gulf country, recently announced its “rejection” of Israel’s annexation plans.
Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab countries with formal peace agreements with Israel, have also condemned the plan, while the Palestinians say they are no longer obliged to honour past agreements with Israel and have suspended security co-operation.