Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz told President Trump's advisers on Monday that he thinks the Israeli government should prioritize the fight against the coronavirus pandemic over moving forward with annexation of parts of the West Bank, Gantz aides said.

Why it matters: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to move forward with annexation of at least some territory as soon as July 1. He's been hoping for a green light from the White House, which has signaled it wants Israel's top leaders to be unified behind such a move. Gantz’s reservations make the situation more difficult.

  • Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party, met Monday morning with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Israel.
  • They discussed the Trump plan and possible annexation steps. Berkowitz met on Saturday with Netanyahu and is expected to meet Tuesday with Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who is also currently opposed to annexation.

What he's saying: Gantz told Berkowitz and Friedman that the July 1 deadline to begin the annexation process is "not a sacred date," Gantz aides said.

  • "The only sacred thing right now is to get people back to their workplace and to fight coronavirus. Before implementing any diplomatic initiatives, we need to help the citizens of Israel to get their jobs back and to be able to make a living. Israelis are worried about the coronavirus and expect the government to take care of it," Gantz added.
  • He also said that the White House's peace plan is a historic step and called it the best framework for moving forward in the peace process.

The other side: At the Likud meeting several hours after Gantz’s meeting with the U.S. team, Netanyahu told members of his party that he is in discreet talks with the White House about annexation and stressed several times that Gantz and his party "are not a factor about whether to go ahead with annexation or not."

The big picture: Any unilateral Israeli annexation would be widely considered a violation of international law and fiercely opposed by the Palestinians, countries in the region including Jordan, as well as the European Union.

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