Austria warns Israel against annexation, despite preventing EU statement on plan

After nixing a European declaration on Jerusalem’s intended action, foreign minister says any unilateral move would be against international law and UN Security Council resolutions

In this February 18, 2020, photo, a view of the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Efraim on the hills of the Jordan Valley. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
In this February 18, 2020, photo, a view of the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Efraim on the hills of the Jordan Valley. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Austria on Friday warned Israel against its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank, saying it would contravene international law.

The statement came despite the fact that Austria previously blocked a declaration on the matter that was to be issued by the European Union and offered public support for Jerusalem earlier this year with the unanimous passing of a resolution that called for condemnation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

“The unilateral expansion of territory is against international law and numerous resolutions of the United Nations Security Council since 1967,” Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told Die Presse, according to the Haaretz daily.

“There are no doubts about the Austrian position regarding annexation,” Schallenberg said, adding that he had made the country’s position clear to Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Europa building in Brussels, January 20, 2020 (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

A coalition deal underlying Israel’s new unity government allows it from July 1 to initiate moves to implement US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The plan, rejected by the Palestinians, gives the green light from Washington for Israel to annex Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, a swath of land running along the border with Jordan. Palestinians say the US plan ends prospects for a two-state solution to their decades-long conflict with Israel.

A statement on the matter on May 18 was issued in the name of the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell because there was no consensus on it among the EU’s 27 member states. According to several sources familiar with the matter, Austria, Hungary and other countries reasoned that now was not the time for such statements.

Borrell’s brief statement largely focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the need for a two-state solution, the importance of international law, and Brussels’s “grave concerns” over Jerusalem’s supposed plan to unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley and all settlements across the West Bank.

“The two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the future capital for both States, is the only way to ensure sustainable peace and stability in the region,” Borrell declared. “In this vein, we note with grave concern the provision — to be submitted for approval by the Israeli cabinet — on the annexation of parts of occupied Palestinian territories.

“We strongly urge Israel to refrain from any unilateral decision that would lead to the annexation of any occupied Palestinian territory and would be, as such, contrary to International Law,” he said.

Several European leaders reportedly sent personal letters to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days asking him not to push ahead with plans to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank.

A young Palestinian shepherd tends to his sheep and camels on land under Israeli security and administrative control, southeast of Yatta town in the southern West Bank district of Hebron, on May 28, 2020 (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Jordan’s foreign minister on Thursday night warned the top diplomats of the US and UK against the “unprecedented threat” Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank posed to the region, his office said.

Last week Amman threatened to review its relationship with Israel if the Jewish state goes ahead with the controversial plans.

Washington on Thursday warned its citizens to take extra caution when traveling to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, anticipating potential violence.

A security alert by the US Embassy in Jerusalem advised citizens to “maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the first Cabinet meeting of the new government at the Chagall Hall in the Knesset, Sunday, May 24, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians earlier this week warned the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff and the defense minister of a potential wave of violence if the government follows through with its plans to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank.

Last week, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that his security forces were halting coordination with Israel over its plans.

While Israeli security officials have confirmed the PA has ended security cooperation, Channel 13 reported that Ramallah had sent messages to Israel saying it would not allow terror attacks against Israelis or a mass popular uprising.

Though not widely discussed publicly, Israel’s cooperation with Palestinian security forces has been credited with thwarting many major terror attacks and being a significant factor in the relative calm in the West Bank in recent years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he has set a July date for when Israel will extend its sovereignty over West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, and informed Likud lawmakers he had no intention of changing it.

A Palestinian man rides a donkey on a main road in the Jordan Valley, near Tubus, in the West Bank, September 11, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

The move would be coordinated with the US, in accordance with the Middle East plan Trump unveiled in January, which endorsed extending Israeli sovereignty over roughly 30 percent of the West Bank.

However, in recent days even Trump administration officials have appeared to seek to dampen expectations that Washington will quickly green-light the move without any progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The State Department’s chief spokesperson said earlier this month that any action should be part of discussions between Israel and the Palestinians on the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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