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Israel To Clarify Its Plans For Annexing Occupied West Bank Lands


The Israeli government has set a July 1 target date to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Israelis and Palestinians are watching to see if the government follows through and how it might affect them. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the time to annex is now as long as President Trump is still in office. Trump's Mideast peace proposal says Israel may annex parts of the occupied West Bank, lands featured in the Bible, a point Netanyahu made yesterday in a video to a U.S. evangelical group, Christians United for Israel.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: In the president's plan, Israel will have sovereignty over Beit El, where Jacob dreamed of a ladder going to the heavens. Israel will have sovereignty over Shiloh, where the Ark of the covenant that housed the Ten Commandments stood for centuries.

ESTRIN: Netanyahu's appeal to this important Trump voter base came with a sense of urgency. He wants to move forward on annexation starting Wednesday, and White House officials are still discussing whether to give their green light. They want an Israeli consensus on annexation, but Israel's government is divided. Facing international opposition, Israel is reportedly considering shrinking its annexation plans to just a few Jewish settlements, one of them being Ma'ale Adumim with about 40,000 people. Outside the settlement is a big red sign warning Israelis not to enter the neighboring Palestinian village. I meet an Israeli settler who ignored the warning sign. He gave his name as Yevgeni. He was buying vegetables at a Palestinian grocery store.

YEVGENI: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He said, annexation doesn't matter to me. I'm not for or against. It's all political games. We live here. We're neighbors. He drove back to his settlement, and I spoke with a Palestinian grocer, Marwan Jaber.

MARWAN JABER: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He's like many Palestinians fed up with their leaders who long promised a Palestinian state in the West Bank. He's watched settlements grow and believes annexation is inevitable. He doesn't think it would change anything if he protested or threw a stone. He says he's just trying to make ends meet, and he vows to never leave his home.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

ESTRIN: Some Palestinians have confronted Israeli troops in the West Bank, chanting Palestine is Arab and you are a country of thieves. If Israel annexes, the EU says Israel would face repercussions. And Arab countries say warming ties with Israel could be reversed. Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu used to advise the Palestinian peace negotiating team. She compares Netanyahu's annexation quest to Russia's recent annexation of Crimea.

DIANA BUTTU: So here we have a prime minister who's saying forget about what the international community says and forget about international law. I'm going to do it anyway. And so the watershed moment is what's going to be the international response? I'm hoping that it will be sanctioned because of the actions that we saw vis-a-vis Crimea. But I'm not optimistic because I've seen the way that the world has behaved when it's come to Palestine in the past.

ESTRIN: She says the world never stopped Israel from building more than a hundred settlements on land that could have been a Palestinian state. Israel says Palestinian leaders have turned down past offers to split up the West Bank between them. So this time, Israel might just act without a deal.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, the West Bank. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.