Emirati remarks on West Bank annexation ‘encouraging,’ says Likud MK

But settlement mayors accuse Netanyahu of ‘trading’ sovereignty for peace after senior Emirati official says US gave assurances move wouldn’t go ahead

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a campaign address next to a map of proposed areas of the West Bank for annexation on September 10, 2019. (screen capture: Facebook)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a campaign address next to a map of proposed areas of the West Bank for annexation on September 10, 2019. (screen capture: Facebook)

After a senior Emirati official said the US had offered “assurances” that Israel will not annex parts of the West Bank, but also appeared to indicate that such a move would not ruin the recent normalization of ties, a top Likud lawmaker said Tuesday the remarks were encouraging.

Speaking to reporters during a briefing at Abu Dhabi airport after the visit of a US-Israeli delegation Jamal al-Musharakh, director of the Emirati Foreign Ministry’s policy planning department, said “we have assurances from the US” that the annexation would not go ahead and that the “halting of annexation was a prerequisite” to the normalization deal announced last month.

Asked if normalization with Israel would fall apart if Israel were to annex in a few months, he said that it would not. However, the UAE’s Foreign Ministry later claimed he had been misquoted (although Israeli reporters heard him clearly) and clarified that its position was that the suspension of annexation was essential to the normalization process.

In response to the original comment, coalition whip MK Miki Zohar said, “The important and encouraging remarks that are coming from senior Emirati officials — that extension of Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] will not harm the peace agreement — can enable us to fulfill what we promised the public in recent years.”

Zohar urged the government to push forward with applying sovereignty, which is tantamount to annexation, before the coming US presidential elections in November.

Likud MK Miki Zohar speaks in the Knesset, Jerusalem on February 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But the council of West Bank settlement mayors said the comments by al-Musharakh showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reneged on his election campaign promise to swiftly apply sovereignty.

In a statement, the Yesha umbrella council said that abandoning annexation “contradicts everything that Prime Minister Netanyahu was elected for.

“Extending sovereignty is an Israeli matter that stems from historical justice, heritage and truth,” the mayors said. “The prime minister must not use sovereignty as currency to trade for peace agreements. If the prime minister misses the opportunity for sovereignty, that will be his legacy.”

Netanyahu has insisted his annexation plan will still be carried out.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, speaking at a ceremony to mark the opening of the school year in the major West Bank settlement of Efrat, indicated that Israel still intends to annex West Bank territory.

“The delegation in the United Arab Emirates is at the this time agreeing on cooperation between the countries,” Edelstein said. “That is important, but there is no reason in the world that it will come at the expense of sovereignty.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during a visit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Minister Ofir Akunis also said that annexation was still being planned, declaring, “I will continue to advance, with all my strength, the extension of sovereignty, which is an inevitable historic process.”

Netanyahu had promised to annex parts of the West Bank in keeping with the Trump peace plan as early as July 1, but that plan was suspended as part of the normalization agreement with the UAE.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner Kushner said Tuesday that the issue of Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank would be raised again “in the future” but “not in the near future,” without elaborating on a timeframe.

Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal that required Israel to suspend its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

The UAE is just the third Arab country to agree to establish official relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan. Israeli and American officials have expressed hope that other Gulf Arab countries will soon follow suit, with relations based on mutual commercial and security interests, and their shared enmity toward Iran.

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