WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that any decision on whether to annex West Bank land was up to Israel to make, amid wide criticism of the Jewish state’s plans.
“Decisions about Israelis extending sovereignty to those places are decisions for the Israelis to make,” Pompeo told reporters.
“We are talking to all of the countries in the region about how it is we can manage this process for our end-state objective,” he said.
He was speaking moments after the United Nations and the Arab League, during a UN Security Council session, joined in calling for Israel to abandon its plans to annex parts of the West Bank and warned of dangerous consequences if the move goes ahead.
Arab states, notably US ally Jordan, have voiced alarm at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indication that he will move ahead as soon as next week to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley — some 30 percent of the territory — saying that it would kill prospects for peace.
But Pompeo said that both Netanyahu and Gulf states backed a Middle East plan unveiled in January by US President Donald Trump, which gives the blessing to Israel for annexation and allows for a demilitarized Palestinian state.
“I regret only that the Palestinian Authority has refused to participate in that,” Pompeo said.
“I remain hopeful that in the coming weeks, we can begin to make real progress towards achieving that,” he said of Trump’s plan.
Officials in the Trump administration are set to decide this week on whether to approve Netanyahu’s declared plan.
Netanyahu has vowed to begin the process as early as July 1. However, US enthusiasm for such a move has appeared to cool amid vociferous opposition from American allies in the Middle East.
Concerned about the collateral damage that could follow from allowing Israel to move ahead with its plan, Washington is reportedly considering backing the annexation of only a handful of settlements close to Jerusalem.
“Ultimately, as the team approaches this thought of annexation, the main thing going through our heads is, ‘Does this in fact help advance the cause of peace?’ And therefore that is what will help drive a lot of the discussion,” a senior Trump administration official told Reuters in a report Monday evening.
The administration is also looking at other options, including a staged process in which Israel would start by declaring sovereignty only over several settlements in the Jerusalem area, the report said, citing an unnamed source.
The official noted that Washington has not ruled out Netanyahu’s larger annexation vision but is concerned that a large-scale, rapid, unilateral move by Israel could seal off any chance that the Palestinians may agree to discuss Trump’s peace plan, unveiled in January.
Despite Pompeo’s Wednesday comments, the US administration is reportedly worried about increasing opposition to annexation coming from Jordan and US-allied Gulf States that have been unobtrusively building ties with Israel.
Jordanian King Abdullah last week deemed unilateral annexation “unacceptable” in briefings to American lawmakers, and is expected to withdraw his ambassador, downgrade ties with Israel and reconsider the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty if Netanyahu goes ahead with such a move.