Ma’ale Adumim annexation vote delayed to avoid clash with Trump envoy

A vote on a contentious bill annexing a large West Bank settlement was delayed at the last minute Tuesday, as the Jewish Home party agreed to push off the move to avoid friction with the Trump administration.

The vote on annexing the Ma’ale Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem will now take place Sunday, possibly avoiding clashing with a visit by US official Jason Greenblatt, dispatched to the region this week to help formulate Washington’s policy on settlements and possibly look to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Coalition head David Bitan had asked to delay a vote on the measure by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation by three months, but the bill’s sponsors — Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) and Yoav Kisch (Likud) — rejected the appeal.

However, Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett agreed to delay the vote for a few days so as not to interfere with Greenblatt’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which began Monday.

The request to delay the vote in the committee, which decides on government support for certain bills, came shortly after a five-hour meeting in Jerusalem between Greenblatt and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Tuesday, Greenblatt is slated to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and the delay of the vote seems designed to avoid coinciding with that visit.

“We will do everything in coordination with the coalition, everything in its [proper] time,” Bennett said Tuesday, according to Channel 10 News.

Bennett’s spokesperson declined a Times of Israel’s request for comment.

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Officials in Netanyahu’s office had been trying to convince the authors of the bill not to bring it to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation meeting scheduled for Tuesday, in order to avoid forcing ministers to choose between potentially alienating a friendly new administration in Washington — during the high-profile visit of a key Trump envoy — or alienating part of the right-wing base.

In their meeting Monday, Netanyahu and Greenblatt said they discussed the settlement issue “in the hope of working out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security,” read a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The proposed legislation, vociferously condemned by the international community, has already been postponed several times in recent months. The bill was supposed to be presented at the beginning of last week, but the bill’s sponsors agreed to delay it by a week. Earlier attempts to bring the bill to vote were delayed at Washington’s request, after the February meeting between Netanyahu and Trump.

Last week Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that Israel has received a direct message from the Trump administration warning of an “immediate crisis” if the government were to annex the West Bank and apply Israeli sovereignty there.

The Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party has long supported legislation that would see Israel effectively annex large parts of the West Bank, starting with Ma’ale Adumim.

Home to some 40,000 settlers in the Judean Desert east of Jerusalem, Ma’ale Adumim is widely considered in Israel to be included in any land swap deals that could be part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

However, critics argue that extending Israeli sovereignty to the large settlement, and a parcel of land known as E-1 between the capital and Ma’ale Adumim, would effectively separate the northern and southern parts of the West Bank.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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