EU ministers said seeking list of deterrents to warn Israel off annexation

Envoys ask policy chief Borrell to draw up possible ‘legal consequences’ in bid to stop West Bank move, saying time is short; British PM talks with Abbas, reiterates opposition

Protesters demonstrate against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank during a rally in Brussels, Belgium, on June 28, 2020. (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images via JTA)
Protesters demonstrate against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank during a rally in Brussels, Belgium, on June 28, 2020. (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images via JTA)

Eleven European foreign ministers have reportedly asked the European Union to provide them with a list of possible actions that can be taken if Israel’s government moves ahead with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, in a bid to add heft to threats of “consequences” that members of the bloc have already brandished in front of Jerusalem.

According to the Guardian, the ministers wrote to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and asked about possible “legal consequences” if Israel unilaterally annexes some 30 percent of the West Bank, as well as any possible ramifications to agreements between Jerusalem and the 28-member bloc.

The letter, seen by the newspaper, was signed by the foreign ministers of Belgium, Ireland, Italy, France, Malta, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Finland.

“The possible annexation by Israel of parts of the occupied Palestinian territory remains a matter of grave concern for the EU and its member states,” the letter read, positing that warning of actions could “contribute to our efforts to deter annexation.”

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference in Brussels, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool)

The ministers referenced a meeting with Borrell on May 15, saying they were repeating a request made then to draw up an “options paper” of possible responses to annexation.

“We understand that this is a sensitive issue and timing is important, but time is also short. We are concerned that the window to deter annexation is fast closing,” the letter said.

There was no comment from the Israeli Foreign Ministry on the letter.

It was the latest move by European leaders pressing Netanyahu to drop plans to unilaterally annex settlements in the West Bank and the strategic Jordan Valley, some 30 percent of the territory.

Netanyahu had vowed to begin the process at the start of July, but efforts have apparently stalled amid internal wrangling and a lack of a green light from Washington. There has been fierce international criticism of the proposed move, much of it coming from Europe along with Jordan and other Arab states.

In this February 10, 2020, photo Palestinian farmers harvest onions in Jordan Valley in the West Bank (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The controversial move was endorsed in an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan unveiled by US President Donald Trump in January.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss concerns about possible annexation, a week after he held a similar call with Netanyahu.

Earlier this month, Johnson urged Israel not to follow through with the plan and warned that the UK would not accept the move, in a direct plea to Israelis published as a front-page op-ed in a major Hebrew newspaper.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)

“The Prime Minister spoke to Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority this evening. He reiterated the UK’s commitment to the two state solution and our opposition to annexation proposals in the West Bank,” said a spokesperson for Johnson. “The Prime Minister urged President Abbas to engage in negotiations and offered the UK’s support to foster dialogue. The leaders agreed to continue to work together on this issue and others.”

The foreign ministries of France and Germany, along with those of Egypt and Jordan — the only Arab states to have peace deals with Israel — warned last week that any annexation could have “consequences” for relations.

Palestinians clash with Israeli forces during a protest against US President Donald Trump’s Mideast initiative in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Tuesday, February 11, 2020. (AP/Majdi Mohammed).

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French lawmakers last month that Paris would be prepared to consider punitive measures, especially in the economic and commercial spheres, in response to an Israeli annexation.

French President Emmanuel Macron also asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from annexing territory — in the West Bank and elsewhere — during a telephone call between the two leaders, Macron’s office said on Friday.

Macron “emphasized that such a move would contravene international law and jeopardize the possibility of a two-state solution as the basis of a fair and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” his office said in a statement after the Thursday call.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus as he opens the weekly cabinet meeting, at the foreign ministry, in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020. (Gali Tibbon/AP)

Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying the premier “clarified that Israel is acting in accordance with international law and stressed that past formulas failed for 53 years and repeating them will lead to another failure.”

He said Israel was willing to negotiate on the basis of Trump’s plan and “the Palestinian refusal to negotiate on the basis of this peace plan and past plans is what’s preventing progress.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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