Middle East

Under US pressure, Israel delays move to expand Jerusalem

Under pressure from the United States, Israel has delayed a bill that would connect a number of West Bank settlements to Jerusalem, officials said Sunday.

The bill aims to solidify the city’s Jewish majority, but stops short of formal annexation, making the practical implications unclear. The bill says the communities would be considered “daughter municipalities” of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians claim both east Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as part of their future state, a position that has wide international backing. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted Netanyahu as saying Israel needs to coordinate the bill with the US.

“The Americans turned to us and inquired what the bill was about. As we have been coordinating with them until now, it is worth (to continue) talking and coordinating with them. We are working to promote and develop the settlement enterprise,” it quoted Netanyahu as saying at a government meeting Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, David Bitan, the Likud party’s parliamentary whip and a close Netanyahu ally, told Army Radio the vote was delayed because “there is American pressure claiming this is annexation.”

Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement watchdog group, says the bill would amount to “de facto annexation” and be a clear step toward full annexation of the West Bank.

US President Donald Trump’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has been shuttling throughout the region in hopes of restarting peace talks, which last collapsed in 2014.

But in contrast to the Obama administration, Trump has not explicitly endorsed a Palestinian state. He also has shown some tolerance for settlement construction, urging Israel to show restraint but saying a complete halt is unnecessary.

Israel says the fate of the settlements, home to more than 600,000 Israelis, should be decided through peace talks along with other core issues like security.

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