EU warns Israel any West Bank annexation can’t go unchallenged
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EU warns Israel any West Bank annexation can’t go unchallenged

Bloc’s foreign policy chief rejects Trump peace plan, says it breaks with ‘internationally agreed parameters’; Israel retorts that Europe’s policy will leave it ‘sidelined’

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell gives a press briefing after his meetings with Iranian leaders, in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell gives a press briefing after his meetings with Iranian leaders, in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The European Union on Tuesday rejected US President Donald Trump’s proposal for securing peace in the Middle East and expressed concern about Israel’s plans to annex large swaths of the West Bank that Palestinians seek for their future state.

Trump’s plan, which was unveiled last week, would see the eventual creation of a Palestinian state over some 70 percent of the West Bank, falling far short of minimal Palestinian demands and leaving sizable chunks of the territory in Israeli hands.

In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell underlined the bloc’s commitment to a two-state solution based along the pre-1967 lines, with the possibility of mutually agreed-upon land swaps, made up of the State of Israel and “an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign and viable state of Palestine.”

Borrell said the US initiative “departs from these internationally agreed parameters.”

Palestinians spray paint over the US Agency for International Development logo as they protest US President Donald Trump’s plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at a roundabout that was renovated by USAID in the West Bank city of Ramallah, February 4, 2020. The Arabic reads, “From the people of the US.” (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

“To build a just and lasting peace, the unresolved final status issues must be decided through direct negotiations between both parties,” Borrell said. “This includes notably the issues related to borders, the status of Jerusalem, security and the refugee question.”

Trump’s plan was welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed it as “nonsense.” Gulf Arab states also rejected the White House plan as “biased.” While Israeli officials were present for its unveiling, no Palestinian representatives attended.

Netanyahu has said he wants to move forward with plans to annex West Bank territory.

“We are especially concerned by statements on the prospect of annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank,” Borrell said.

US President Donald Trump participates in an expanded bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 27, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

He suggested that the EU might consider legal action by saying any “steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged.”

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman lashed Borrell’s comments as “threatening language” that could sideline the EU as an influential actor in the region.

“The fact that the High Rep of the EU, Josep Borrel [sic], chose to use threatening language towards Israel, so shortly after he assumed office & only hours after his meetings in Iran, is regrettable &, to say the least, odd,” tweeted ministry spokesman Lior Haiat. “Pursuing such policies & conduct is the best way to ensure that the EU’s role in any process will be minimized.”

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war — for an independent state and the removal of more than 700,000 Israelis from these areas.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) welcomes European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell in the capital Tehran on February 3, 2020. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

But the plan sides heavily with Netanyahu’s stated views and shunts aside many of the Palestinians’ core demands.

EU foreign ministers have discussed in recent months whether the bloc should modify its Middle East policy amid growing concern that Israeli settlement activity and US diplomatic moves like the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are undermining the chances of a two-state solution.

Ireland and Luxembourg are among a small group of countries that support a change of position but no heavyweight member country is backing them.

In a letter to Borrell, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn wrote that hopes for a two-state solution are “being dismantled piece by piece, day after day,” and that it is time to consider recognizing Palestine as a state.

Borrell has noted that member countries are “very much divided” over how to handle Middle East peace moves. In Tuesday’s statement, he also underlined the EU’s “fundamental commitment to the security of Israel.”

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