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Photo: Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisers told Trump administration officials they have reservations about the proposal for a passage connecting the West Bank and Gaza as part of the White House Middle East peace plan, sources briefed on the matter tell me.

Why it matters: The proposal was part of the economic portion of the U.S. plan. It was revealed by the White House to Netanyahu and his aides two weeks before the plan was made public, Israeli officials say. Netanyahu has publicly stressed several times that Israel will keep an open mind about the plan. 

The big picture: The economic plan focused almost exclusively on boosting the Palestinian economy and on investments in infrastructure, health and education. But the $5 billion proposal for a highway and railway between the West Bank and Gaza has political significance.

  • It showed the U.S. sees the West Bank and Gaza as one territorial unit in any future peace deal. That's in conflict with Israel's policy, in place for over a decade, of keeping the West Bank and Gaza separate.
  • The main reservation Netanyahu and his aides conveyed to the Trump administration had to do with security, the sources say.
  • They say Israel gave U.S. officials examples of how even today — with no transportation corridor and Israel in full control of Gaza’s borders — Hamas attempts to transfer operatives, messages and know-how from Gaza to the West Bank by exploiting entry permits granted for humanitarian reasons.

Between the lines: Jason Greenblatt, the White House special envoy for Middle East peace, referred to the issue in remarks two weeks ago at a conference in Israel. His comments went unnoticed and unreported until now.

  • Greenblatt said the White House team tried to avoid political issues in the first phase of the plan, but the Gaza-West Bank passage was an exception.
  • He said the decision to include it was based on the importance of integration between the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians and on the fact that such a passage is necessary to make a success of the economic plan.

Greenblatt said the pushback from the Israeli side "surprised me" because the White House team had made repeated assurances that "Israel's security is first and foremost" in the plan.

  • "We are not suggesting any corridor whatsoever that doesn't completely make Israel comfortable that it will not be a danger to Israel," he said at the conference.

Greenblatt tells me his comments referenced pushback from Israeli private citizens, not the government. 

  • “I am not aware of any official pushback from the Israeli government on this point for now," he added.
  • Greenblatt emphasized the importance of Israel's security and said "this connection can only be a part of a comprehensive deal if it is acceptable to Israel and all security issues can be thoroughly addressed."

Go deeper

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

7 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.

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