Biden opposes West Bank annexation, will keep US embassy in Jerusalem, says aide

Top foreign policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate says unilateral moves are ‘bad’ for Israel and for 2-state solution

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds a joint press conference with then-US vice president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 9, 2016. (Amit Shabi/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds a joint press conference with then-US vice president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 9, 2016. (Amit Shabi/Pool)

Former US vice president Joe Biden’s senior foreign policy adviser said Tuesday that the presidential candidate opposes unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank, a move Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to implement as early as July.

However, he also said Biden would keep the US embassy in Jerusalem, rather than reverse President Donald Trump’s decision to move the mission from Tel Aviv.

Speaking on a webinar hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Tony Blinken said Biden had been “on the record several times [that] unilateral steps taken by either side that make the prospect of a negotiated two-state outcome less likely is something he opposes, and that includes annexation,” according to Jewish Insider.

He said annexation of settlements or the Jordan Valley would be “bad” for Israel.

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a press conference on the sidelines of an international security summit in Manama, Bahrain, October 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Blinken said that a potential Biden administration would aim to revive and “ultimately advance” the two-state solution.

“In many ways, pulling the plug on a two-state solution is pulling the plug, potentially, on an Israel that is not only secure but is Jewish and democratic — for the future. That’s not something any of us, who are ardent supporters of Israel, would want to see,” said Blinken.

But he said he was “not going to prejudge what we might do or not do in the context of a Biden administration” since much could change before then.

The remark came a day after Trump’s administration said it was ready to recognize annexation but asked Israel’s government to also negotiate with the Palestinians.

“As we have made consistently clear, we are prepared to recognize Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty and the application of Israeli law to areas of the West Bank that the vision foresees as being part of the State of Israel,” a US State Department spokesperson said when asked if the US would allow Israel’s new government to move forward with the process.

The step would be “in the context of the Government of Israel agreeing to negotiate with the Palestinians along the lines set forth in President Trump’s Vision,” the spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

“The annexation would be in the context of an offer to the Palestinians to achieve statehood based upon specific terms, conditions, territorial dimensions and generous economic support.  This is an unprecedented and highly beneficial opportunity for the Palestinians,” the spokesperson said.

US President Barack Obama, center, and Vice President Joe Biden, left, meet with members of the National Security Council, August 18, 2014, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Also at the meeting are Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, and Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, far right. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Blinken, a former diplomat who served in former president Barack Obama’s administration, also said during Tuesday’s event that Biden, if elected, would not move the US embassy back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, saying such a step “would not make sense practically and politically.”

At the same webinar, Delaware Senator Chris Coons, speaking as a surrogate for the Biden campaign, expressed hope that Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and his deputy, Gabi Ashkenazi — both former IDF chiefs of staff — would use their leverage in the upcoming new unity government to hinder any application of sovereignty over the West Bank.

“My hope would be that Ashkenazi as foreign minister and Gantz as defense minister — in what will be internal deliberations — given their deep experience in the IDF and given the security consequences of an abrupt move, would caution Bibi [Netanyahu] against some significant step like this,” Coons said.

The Trump peace plan unveiled earlier this year — which angered the Palestinians and was rejected by much of the international community — gave Israel the green light to annex settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley area.

The Palestinians have refused to negotiate with the Trump administration, considering it biased. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened last week to cancel all agreements with Israel and the US if Israel moved forward with annexation plans.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, February 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that annexation was ultimately “an Israeli decision.”

Netanyahu said Sunday that he was “confident” Trump would let him fulfill his election promise to apply Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank “a couple of months from now.”

“Three months ago, the Trump peace plan recognized Israel’s rights in all of Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name. “And President Trump pledged to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Jewish communities there and in the Jordan Valley.”

“A couple of months from now, I’m confident that that pledge will be honored,” Netanyahu said.

According to the wording of the “emergency government” deal between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White, starting July 1, Netanyahu “will be able to bring the agreement reached with the US on the application of sovereignty [in the West Bank] for the approval of the cabinet and/or the Knesset.”

In addition, “the law will be passed as quickly as possible… and will not be disrupted or delayed by the chairmen of either the House or the Foreign Affairs and Defense committees.”

The Netanyahu-Gantz deal stipulates that any Israeli action would need US backing, and must take into account Israel’s peace treaties with neighboring Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab states that have formal peace treaties and diplomatic relations with Israel.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020. (GPO)

The prospect of annexation has recently drawn international condemnation, including from senior officials at the United Nations and the European Union.

The Arab League plans to hold an urgent virtual meeting this week to galvanize opposition to the annexation plan, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has reportedly approached counterparts in a number of countries including Russia, Germany, Egypt, Japan, Sweden and Norway to oppose the outline.

Netanyahu’s right-wing base is eager to move forward with annexation while the friendly Trump administration is in office.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinians seek those territories as part of a future independent state. Annexation of West Bank settlements would infuriate the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors.

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