Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that discussions with the U.S. on his plan to annex occupied West Bank territory would 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 U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. The sides have been holding talks for several months on finalizing 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.
Netanyahu has been eager to begin annexing West Bank territory in line with President Donald Trump's Mideast plan. The plan, unveiled in January, envisions turning over some 30% of the territory under permanent Israeli control, while giving the Palestinians autonomy in the remaining land.
But the plan to redraw the Mideast map has come under fierce international criticism. The international community considers the territory to be occupied, and for Israel's more than 120 settlements to be illegal.
But Trump has taken a far more conciliatory line than his Republican and Democratic predecessors. Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, has said Israel must take advantage of what he calls a "historic opportunity," and is eager to move forward before the November presidential election.
Netanyahu says his goal of annexing all the settlements, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley, is necessary to protect Israeli security. He also has defended it in religious terms, saying the territories are part of the biblical Land of Israel.
In the meantime, in the afternoon hours some 200 settlers arrived at an illegal outpost located between the settlement blocs of Kiryat Arba and Gush Etzion in protest against Trump's peace plan because it includes a provision for a Palestinian state with parts of West Bank.
"We will not accept any plan that divides the Land of Israel," said the protesters in a statement. "This plan must be thrown in the trash"