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Pompeo says West Bank annexation ultimately Israel’s decision

What happened: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that it was up to Israel on whether it chooses to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank or not, and said Washington would offer its views privately to Israel’s new government.

  • Pompeo told reporters, “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions … and we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in (a) private setting.”
  • Pompeo also said he was “happy” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz signed a deal to form a national emergency government, saying he did not think a fourth election was in Israel’s interest.
  • This was the first comment by a senior member of the Trump administration since Netanyahu and Gantz reached an agreement at the beginning of the week. Pompeo said the US welcomed that development and is looking forward to continued cooperation with Israel.
  • Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said last night, “No one should delude themselves that they can take advantage of the fact that the world is busy with the coronavirus crisis to violate our rights. We will not allow anyone to violate our rights.” Adding, “We won’t sit with our hands crossed and do nothing if Israel declares annexation, and if that happens, we will consider the agreements forged between the Palestinians, Israel and the United States to be null and void.”
  • Nabil Abu Rudeineh, PA spokesperson, said in a statement: “The United States has no say in legitimising an Israeli decision regarding the Palestinian territories, or in deciding what happens to them. The Palestinians are the only ones to decide on the future of their territories … the president’s position that any unilateral Israeli decision regarding the Palestinian territories will have dangerous implications for the region’s security and stability is clear.”
  • Last night Netanyahu spoke with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Yamina party, as he considers whether to join the new national emergency government or break from the right-wing bloc and become part of the opposition. Bennett is a strong supporter of annexing parts of the West Bank and his party’s inclusion into the new government would further endorse the propects of annexation.

Context: According to the coalition agreement signed this week, the adoption of the Trump plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace will be done in coordination with the US.

  • Netanyahu and Gantz also agreed to “engage in dialogue” with the international community “with the aim of preserving security and strategic interests including regional security, preserving existing peace agreements and working towards future peace agreements”.
  • Gantz has been criticised for not insisting on a veto on West Bank annexation, as he had previously expressed opposition to it. In any case, there appears to be a clear majority in the current Knesset in favour of annexation, even beyond the 59 MK right-wing bloc. Within the opposition, Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party (7 MKs) and Moshe Yaalon’s Telem faction (3 MKs) are thought to support the move, as well as the two man faction of Derech Eretz.
  • In February the US and Israel set up a joint committee to work on converting the conceptual map in the Trump plan into what US Ambassador Friedman described at the time as,  “A more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved.” The US team is led by Ambassador Friedman and includes Arieh Lightstone and Scott Leith – who is responsible for Israeli-Palestinian affairs in the US National Security Council. The Israeli team includes Israeli Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, Likud MK Yariv Levin and Israeli Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ronen Peretz.
  • According to Israeli media reports earlier this week the European Union conveyed warnings to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz that any annexation of parts of the West Bank would negatively impact the EU’s relationship with Israel and would be met with a powerful response.
  • Back in February Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu by phone and told him the “UK’s long-standing view on the importance of a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both sides, and our opposition to the unilateral annexation of territory.”

Looking ahead: The US – Israel joint committee is expected complete their mapping of the West Bank soon.  According to the coalition agreement the annexation plan will be presented to the Cabinet or the Knesset as early as 1 July.