Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he spoke Thursday morning with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, stressing his commitment to peace with the Palestinians but avoiding mentioning Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
Gantz tweeted that he had told Borrell he was “committed to pursuing peace” and “emphasized that we will work through diplomatic channels, keeping an open dialogue with the European community and with our regional partners, while doing everything necessary to protect Israel’s security.”
The statement made no explicit mention of Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, for which Borrell slammed Jerusalem in a statement last month.
Gantz said he and Borrell discussed “deepening the ties between Israel and the EU, the significance of our partnership and the strong collaboration we share.”
He also urged the EU to increase its pressure on Iran, in an apparent reaction to the International Atomic Energy Agency recently concluding that the Islamic Republic has breached the terms of the nuclear deal that it signed with world powers in 2015 and from which the United States withdrew in 2018.
“I highlighted the importance of the European Union actively working to block Iran’s dangerous nuclear armament, through applying massive pressure and extending the embargo on arms supply to the regime,” Gantz said.
A May 18 brief statement by Borrell — delivered by him because there was no consensus on the matter among all EU states — largely focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the need for a two-state solution, the importance of international law, and Brussels’s “grave concerns” over Jerusalem’s supposed plan to unilaterally annex the Jordan Valley and all settlements across the West Bank.
Hebrew-language media reported Wednesday that some European countries could retaliate for unilateral Israeli annexation of sections of the West Bank by recognizing a Palestinian state and sanctioning Israel.
Quoting unnamed Palestinian officials, the Kan public broadcaster reported that several European countries, among them Ireland, had said they would recognize a Palestinian state if Israel extended sovereignty over areas designated for it under US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
The Kan public broadcaster said the Palestinian Authority was also querying the positions of France, Spain, Luxembourg, Portugal and Belgium. A committee in the latter’s lower house of parliament passed a resolution Wednesday calling on the government to recognize a Palestinian state. That resolution is slated to be debated in the full chamber in the next 15 days.
Meanwhile, during meetings with Israeli leaders Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was said to issue similar warnings.
According to reports in Haaretz and Walla news, Maas warned that while Germany was unlikely to take punitive measures against Israel if it moves forward with annexation, other countries could impose sanctions or recognize a Palestinian state.
Maas, who held separate meetings during a quick visit to Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Gantz, told them some countries in the European Union were pushing to sanction Israel if annexation moves forward, the reports said.
Under the coalition deal between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White, the premier can begin moving forward on July 1 with annexing West Bank territories set aside for Israel under Trump’s proposal.
An Israeli-American committee has been working on mapping out the areas over which Washington would agree to Israel extending its sovereignty.
However, a minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party said last week that the July 1 target date for annexation could be pushed off by weeks, while a source told The Times of Israel that the US was “highly unlikely” to support Israel moving forward with annexation then.
A television report Monday said the US was disinclined to back Netanyahu’s repeatedly declared intention to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank unless the move is supported by his Blue and White coalition partners Gantz and Ashkenazi.
On Wednesday, reports said the three were set to meet next week with David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, to discuss annexation.
According to Channel 13 news, the meetings would be an effort to bridge the differences within the Israeli government on the matter, with Blue and White wary the move could damage Israel’s diplomatic ties with other countries, among them Jordan.
The Palestinians, who have rejected Trump’s plan out of hand, on Tuesday said they had presented a counter-proposal for the creation of a “sovereign Palestinian state, independent and demilitarized” to the Quartet, made up of the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia.
AFP contributed to this report.