Palestinian leaders, the United Nations, European powers and Arab countries have all denounced any annexation of land that Israeli forces captured in a 1967 war.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's discussions with the US on his plan to annex occupied West Bank territory will continue “in the coming days,” indicating he would miss a July 1 target date for beginning the controversial process.
Netanyahu made the comments shortly after wrapping up talks with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. The sides have been holding talks for several months on finalising a map spelling out which areas of the West Bank will be annexed by Israel.
“I spoke about the question of sovereignty, which we are working on these days and we will continue to work on in the coming days,” Netanyahu said.
Earlier, an Israeli minister played down the likelihood of major moves to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank on July 1, the planned starting point for cabinet debate on the issue.
Lacking US approval
Zeev Elkin, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, said Israel still did not have the green light it seeks from Washington to begin extending its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, territory Palestinians seek for a state.
"Whoever painted a picture of everything happening in one day on July 1, did so at their own risk," Elkin, minister of higher education, told Army Radio when asked what would happen on Wednesday. "From tomorrow, the clock will start ticking."
No cabinet session for Wednesday has been announced.
US-Israel consensus efforts
US officials are in Israel as part of the White House's efforts to win consensus within its government for annexation as envisioned in an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan announced by President Donald Trump in January.
The proposal calls for Israeli sovereignty over about 30 percent of the West Bank, land on which Israel has built settlements for decades, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state under strict conditions.
Palestinians say the blueprint would make statehood, in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, unviable and most world powers view Israel's settlements on occupied land as illegal.
Netanyahu says the Jewish people have a legal, historic and moral claim to the West Bank, the biblical Judea and Samaria.
Netanyahu, in power since 2009, has pursued closer ties with Arab states, notably in the Gulf, seeking economic cooperation and to form a united front against common foe Iran.
But Gulf leaders have also made clear that moves towards annexation would threaten any warming relations with the Jewish state.
Netanyahu's coalition government earlier set July 1 as the date it can begin action on Trump's proposals, which have been roundly rejected by the Palestinians as biased towards Israel.
On Monday, Netanyahu's chief coalition partner, the defence minister and alternate prime minister, Benny Gantz, said annexation must be put on hold until the coronavirus crisis has been contained.
In an interview with the YNet news site on Tuesday, Gantz repeated his call for Israel to try to enlist Palestinian and international support for the Trump plan before proceeding with a unilateral annexation move.
Israeli media have suggested action could be postponed indefinitely, or that Netanyahu might announce a symbolic gesture to limit international uproar, like the annexation of one Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem.