Israel's top two leaders have appeared to feud about the timing of the country's planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, complicating the task of American officials who were in Jerusalem trying to finalise a plan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main coalition partner, Benny Gantz, has signalled his opposition to advancing a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians want to establish a state.
But Netanyahu was quoted by a spokesman as telling legislators from his right-wing Likud party that annexation steps due to be debated by the cabinet as early as Wednesday did not depend on Gantz's support.
The two uneasy partners in a coalition formed last month were both meeting visiting officials from Washington, which wants to see consensus within the Israeli government before giving a green light to Netanyahu's plans.
A Netanyahu-Gantz rift might therefore delay a cabinet debate on annexation that both had agreed could begin as early as July 1.
A source in Gantz's party quoted him as telling the US officials on Monday — Ambassador David Friedman and White House adviser Avi Berkowitz — that the July 1 target date was "not sacred."
Berkowitz is in Jerusalem this week working with Israeli officials on the contours of which land Israel can annex.
But in a meeting with his Blue and White party, Gantz said his top priority is helping the country cope with the health and economic crisis stemming from the coronavirus.
In remarks broadcast later, Gantz told members of his centrist Blue and White party that "what is not corona-related will wait until the day after the virus."
He has estimated the health crisis could last another 18 months.
Netanyahu has said he intends to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, as envisaged by a blueprint announced by US President Donald Trump in January under which Israel would control 30 percent of the West Bank.
READ MORE: Israel's new battle: semantics of occupied West Bank
International opposition has mounted in the past few weeks, with Palestinian leaders, the United Nations, European powers and Arab countries allied with Israel all denouncing any annexation of land that Israeli forces captured in a 1967 war.
READ MORE: Arab nations urge Israel against annexation but US gives green light
READ MORE: Any Israeli annexation will be a 'crime': Palestine
The United Nations' top human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, urged Israel on Monday to scrap its plans entirely, saying, "Annexation is illegal. Period."
The Israeli Foreign Ministry accused Bachelet of bias and said in a statement that it was not surprising that she had made her remarks before "any decision has been made."
The Trump proposal — rejected outright by Palestinian leaders — also envisages creation of a Palestinian state, under strict conditions.
Addressing Likud lawmakers, Netanyahu said Blue and White was "not the decisive factor this way or the other," according to a spokesman.
Netanyahu appeared to be alluding to support for annexation from ultra-Orthodox and far-right legislators.
The US embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.