U.S. special Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz is in Israel for meetings with senior Israeli officials to continue the discussions held last week at the White House and to further scrutinize Israel’s plans to extend sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria.

In a meeting Monday morning with Berkowitz and Scott Leith of the U.S. National Security Council, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that he does not consider July 1 to be a “holy date” and that his current priorities are fighting the coronavirus pandemic and bringing down unemployment, according to Israel’s Walla news.

According to the coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can bring the sovereignty issue to a vote starting on July 1.

Berkowitz and Leith met with Netanyahu on Saturday night, and they plan to meet with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Tuesday.

In a video message to the virtual summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) on Sunday night, Netanyahu defended his plan to pursue sovereignty.

He said that “applying Israeli law to areas of Judea and Samaria that will remain part of Israel in any future peace deal will not set back the cause of peace, it will advance peace.”

“I encourage the Palestinians not to lose another opportunity, not to waste another century, trying to destroy Israel,” he said. “They should sit down and negotiate in good faith. They should be prepared to negotiate a historic compromise that can bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians alike. Israel is prepared for such negotiations. I am prepared for such negotiations.”

Netanyahu noted that, unlike past peace plans, U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan “makes clear that the Jewish people have a valid, legal, historical and moral claim to Judea in Samaria. And it supports Israel’s sovereignty over the Jewish communities there.”

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan invited Berkowitz to travel with him to various parts of Samaria to see it firsthand before finalizing the plan. In a letter to Berkowitz, Dagan wrote, “Come see Samaria with your own eyes and meet its people, so you can better understand its reality in depth.”

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