France on Tuesday warned the new Israeli government against annexing parts of the West Bank, saying the move could harm Israel’s ties with the European Union.
Together with the Palestinian Authority, Germany also expressed its opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated intention to apply Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley.
Under the coalition deal between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, the government can move forward from July 1 with annexing areas of the West Bank that US President Donald Trump’s peace plan envisions will be part of Israel.
Most of the international community, especially Europe and Arab nations, strongly oppose Netanyahu’s annexation plans, viewing the West Bank as an integral part of a future Palestinian state.
Congratulating Netanyahu and Gantz on the new government, France’s foreign ministry said it hoped cooperation with Israel against the coronavirus would continue and stressed its “unshakable commitment” to the security of the Jewish state and the region.
“In this respect, France reaffirms its commitment to a fair, lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With this in mind, it calls on the Israeli authorities to refrain from any unilateral measure which would lead to the annexation of all or part of the Palestinian Territories,” a statement from the ministry said.
Echoing Joseph Borrell, the EU’s foreign minister, the statement said annexation would violate international law and “seriously undermine” the prospects of the two-state solution.
“This could not be without consequences for the European Union’s relations with Israel. France remains fully prepared to support any effort aimed at resuming negotiations between the parties, the only path towards peace, security and regional stability,” it said.
Similar to the French statement, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh voiced backing for a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines, with a capital in East Jerusalem.
“They noted with grave concern the agreement between coalition parties in Israel to advance plans for annexation of occupied Palestinian territories as stipulated in the Israeli coalition agreement,” they said in a joint statement. “Annexation of any part of occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem constitutes a clear violation of international law and seriously undermines the chances for the two-state solution within a final status agreement.”
The statement added that “Germany took note of the Palestinian view that such a step would put an end to all signed agreements” the PA has with Israel.
The statements from France and Germany came a day after Borrell again warned Jerusalem against the unilateral annexation of West Bank territory, in a message congratulating Israel on its new government.
Borrell issued the statement in his 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.
Some EU member states have also asked Brussels to prepare an “options paper” that would detail the various diplomatic and economic sanctions the bloc could take, but work on such a document has not yet started, sources told The Times of Israel.
The Foreign Ministry hit back Tuesday at Borrell.
“This ‘megaphone diplomacy’ is not a substitute for intimate diplomatic dialogue and will not advance the role the EU is seeking to fulfill,” spokesperson Lior Haiat said in a statement.