Boris Johnson and Netanyahu discuss Trump plan

What happened: On Monday night Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone, after the former’s op-ed in Yediot Ahronot calling for Israel not to apply its sovereignty in the West Bank.

  • Netanyahu told Johnson that “Israel is prepared to conduct negotiations on the basis of President Trump’s peace plan which is both creative and realistic and will not return to the failed formulas of the past.” In addition, The Prime Minister’s Office said the pair “agreed to strengthen bilateral relations in a range of fields, especially to deepen cooperation combating the coronavirus”.
  • The UK Government released a statement, saying: “The Prime Minister set out his concerns about plans to annex parts of the West Bank unilaterally and cautioned that this would set back the prospects for peace in the region. He reiterated his personal support for Israel and urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to return to negotiations with the Palestinians. The leaders also underlined their ongoing commitment to UK-Israel trade and discussed the global response to coronavirus, agreeing to continue working together to tackle the pandemic.”
  • Yesterday, the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan spoke on a video conference and afterwards issued a rare joint statement: “We concur that any annexation of Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would be a violation of international law and imperil the foundations of the peace process. We would not recognise any changes to the 1967 borders that are not agreed by both parties in the conflict. We also concur that such a step would have serious consequences for the security and stability of the region, and would constitute a major obstacle to efforts aimed at achieving a comprehensive and just peace. It could also have consequences for the relationship with Israel. We emphasise our strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution based on international law and relevant UN resolutions. We discussed how a constructive fresh start can be made between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, and we offer our support in opening a path to negotiations.”
  • Last night Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned in a televised speech: “We stand by our Palestinian brothers as a state and as a people, and are ready to do anything against this plot, the consequences of which are extremely dangerous for Lebanon.”

Context: According to the coalition agreement, July 1 was set as the earliest date for an Israeli government decision on any West Bank move. However, the issue was not even on the agenda at this week’s parliamentary faction meetings for either the Likud or Blue and White.

  • At the beginning of the week outgoing Director General of the Defence Ministry Udi Adam said “there is no practical way to do a sweeping annexation at the moment”. He added that any move needs to be done in cooperation with other countries in the region, the US, the Europeans, and “of course the Palestinians”.
  • Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) are focused on fighting a new surge of the coronavirus. According to the PA’s Health Ministry, more than 4,570 people have tested positive overall and 17 people have died. Last week there were 2,356 cases and five deaths. In Israel, a total of 1,319 people have tested positive in the last 24 hours. Five people died in hospitals across Israel yesterday, bringing the death toll up to 342.
  • The King of Jordan and other Jordanian officials have been outspoken in their opposition to any unilateral Israeli move, but this is the first time Egypt has publicly threatened that annexation could impact its relations with Israel.
  • Last week, the US Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz and National Security Council Member Scott Leith were in Israel for consultations and met Prime Minister Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
  • Last Wednesday Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote an op-ed, published on the front page of Israel’s popular daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot, where he sought to reassure that “our commitment to Israel’s security will be unshakable while I am Prime Minister,“ but added, “I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead. If it does, the UK will not recognise any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties”.

Looking ahead: The US peace team is expected to resume their discussion later today on next steps to implement the Trump plan. A source told The Jerusalem Post that an announcement is “still possible” this month.

  • Netanyahu and Johnson also agreed that British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will continue to discuss the issue with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi during Raab’s next official visit to Israel.

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