Washington green-lights Israeli government’s move to annexation

Pompeo says annexation of West Bank is “Israeli decision.”
Sunday 26/04/2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, April 22. (AFP)
Controversial stance. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, April 22. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - After Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and centrist rival Benny Gantz signed a deal April 20 to form a national emergency government, renewed Israeli-Palestinian tensions are likely over Israeli moves towards annexation of the occupied territories in the West Bank.

Such moves seem to have the tacit blessing of the Trump administration. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said April 22 it was up to Israel whether to annex parts of the West Bank and that Washington would offer its views privately to Israel’s new government.

“As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions,” Pompeo told reporters. “That’s an Israeli decision. 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” Netanyahu and Gantz signed a deal April 20 to form a national emergency government, saying he did not think a fourth Israeli election was in Israel’s interest.

The coalition agreement says that while the new government will strive for “peace and regional stability,” plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank — land the Palestinians seek for a state — could advance.

The move would mean a de-facto annexation of territory that Israel seized in a 1967 war and that is presently under Israeli military control. It would have to be approved by the United States, after which Netanyahu would be permitted to advance the plans from July 1, the agreement says.

Pompeo’s comment drew condemnation from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said his administration would view agreements with Israel and the United States as “completely cancelled” if Israel annexes land in the West Bank.

“We have informed the relevant international parties, including the American and the Israeli governments, that we will not stand hand-cuffed if Israel announces the annexation of any part of our land,” Abbas said on Palestine TV.

The Palestinians and the majority of nations in the world regard settlements as illegal under the Geneva Conventions that bar settling on land captured in war. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.

US President Donald Trump’s peace proposal unveiled in January was embraced by Israel and rejected by the Palestinians, partly because it awards Israel most of what it has sought during decades of conflict — including nearly all the occupied land on which it has built settlements as well as full control over Jerusalem —  and not provide the Palestinians with the basis of a viable independent state.

Annexations are likely to inflame tensions in the volatile region.

The coalition agreement says that any measures regarding Trump’s plan would be executed “in full agreement of the United States,” while maintaining “international dialogue” and “the need to maintain regional stability.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on April 20 condemned the formation of an “Israeli annexation government,” saying it marked the end of the two-state solution.

Netanyahu’s former rival Gantz announced April 21 he was set to become defence minister, a day after the two signed the hard-won unity government deal.

The agreement, ending a 16-month political deadlock, sees Netanyahu serve as premier for the first half of a three-year term as he faces trial on corruption charges, which he denies.

The premiership would then pass to Gantz in October next year, with elections 18 months later.

Under the agreement, the pro-Netanyahu camp led by his Likud party will share ministerial posts equally with Gantz’s bloc, led by his Blue and White alliance.

Netanyahu’s supporters will take the finance and health ministries, while Gantz backers will control the defence and justice ministries.

Gantz, who replaces hardliner and Netanyahu supporter Naftali Bennett at the defence ministry, is a career soldier who headed the army during Israel’s last two wars against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2012 and 2014.

“After a year and a half of political stalemate and as the country endures one of the most severe economic crises in its history, it is high time for Israel to have a functioning government,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank.

But he warned that the Netanyahu-Gantz deal risks creating a government “without a grand vision or clear goals” that would be vulnerable to being bogged down with “cumbersome political agreements.”

Netanyahu was due to face trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust last month. The trial’s start date was postponed to May 24 because of the pandemic.

(With news agencies)