European leaders said to implore Netanyahu not to advance annexation
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European leaders said to implore Netanyahu not to advance annexation

Macron, Johnson, others reportedly warn PM; EU foreign policy head leaves annexation out in first call with Israeli counterpart, apparently signaling ‘willingness to engage’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a ceremony commemorating the 75nd anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv roundup, Sunday, July 16, 2017 in Paris. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu, Pool)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a ceremony commemorating the 75nd anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv roundup, Sunday, July 16, 2017 in Paris. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu, Pool)

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.

“I ask you, in a spirit of friendship, that your new government not take unilateral action [in the West Bank]. Such a move would destabilize the Middle East,” French President Emmanuel Macron told Netanyahu, according to a report aired Tuesday on Channel 13. “Only dialogue with the Palestinians and a just and balanced solution will provide Israel with peace, security and stability.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and their Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte reportedly sent Netanyahu letters expressing similar sentiments.

Several European nations are currently considering ways to deter Israel from moving forward with its declared intention to apply sovereignty to the entire Jordan Valley and all settlements across the West Bank — territory much of the international community wants to see become a Palestinian state — and how to punish it if it ignores their warnings and carries out the annexation, according to the report.

According to the coalition agreement on which Israel’s new government was founded, Netanyahu can bring the annexation plan to a vote in the government and the Knesset as soon as July 1, as long as it’s done in full coordination with the US. The administration of US President Donald Trump has vowed to recognize Israel’s annexation as long as Jerusalem does it on the basis of the peace plan issued by Washington earlier this year.

According to the network, Palestinian leaders are concerned that leading Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Gulf states, have reacted with seeming indifference about the prospect of annexation.

While Jordan has threatened to review its ties with Israel over the annexation plans, most other Arab states have made little fuss.

Citing an unnamed Palestinian source, Channel 13 said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, having severed security ties with Israel, may resort to still more dramatic measures if Israel presses ahead with unilateral annexation, including dismantling the PA.

Last week, Abbas announced the end of security cooperation with Israel in reaction to the annexation plans, in what was seen as his most extreme move yet to attempt to thwart Israeli intentions to claim sovereignty over areas the Palestinians seek for their future state.

On Monday, Netanyahu reportedly told lawmakers from his Likud faction that he was sticking to plans to begin the annexation process on July 1, rebuffing domestic and international pressure against the move.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell addresses a video press conference at the conclusion of a video conference of EU foreign affairs ministers in Brussels, April 22, 2020. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

Among the most outspoken opponents of the annexation plans has been the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, who in recent weeks released several statements condemning the annexation plans, causing much chagrin in Jerusalem.

Borrell spoke with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi Tuesday, but surprisingly did not highlight the bloc’s vociferous opposition to Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

A readout of the conversation provided by Borrell’s office quoted him reaffirming the EU’s wish to “continue working with the new Israeli government in a constructive and comprehensive way, in the spirit of the longstanding friendship that binds the EU and Israel together.”

Ashkenazi and Borrell had “an honest and open exchange of views on a broad range of bilateral and regional issues,” the readout continues, without elaborating.

The EU’s foreign policy czar “underlined the EU’s unequivocal commitment to the security of the State of Israel, which is not negotiable for the EU” and reaffirmed the union’s intention to “address jointly issues of mutual interest and concern and to work with Israel to promote global peace and security and to contribute to building trust, in particular in the region and the immediate neighborhood.”

The fact that the readout did not explicitly mention annexation is to be seen as an indication of the union’s “willingness to engage” with the new Israeli government, an EU source told The Times of Israel. The source added, however, that the EU’s position on annexation “is abundantly clear.”

Last week, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem slammed Borrell’s “megaphone diplomacy” after he repeatedly warned Israel against annexation.

“Israel and the EU share history, values, interests, opportunities and both face threats. It is regrettable that once again, the security of Israel, a key partner of the EU, and the threats that Israel face, were not mentioned at all and were not given the centrality that they should be in such a message,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said at the time.

“This ‘megaphone diplomacy’ is not a substitute for intimate diplomatic dialogue and will not advance the role the EU is seeking to fulfill.”

Incoming Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, May 18, 2020 (Foreign Ministry)

On May 18, Borrell had issued a brief statement that largely focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the need for a two-state solution, the importance of international and Brussel’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.

The statement was issued in Borrell’s name because there was no consensus on it among the EU’s 27 member states. According to several sources familiar with the matter, Hungary, Austria and other countries reasoned that now was not the time for such statements.

On the other hand, some member states, including Ireland and Luxembourg, sought to issue a statement that was even harsher, including mentioning steps the EU may consider if Israel were to advance its annexation plans. Given the near-certain veto of such a text by Budapest and Vienna, some countries considered issuing a separate joint statement listing possible sanctions against Israel as a deterrent against annexation, but this has not materialized so far.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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