German parliament warns against annexation, but doesn’t threaten sanctions

German parliament warns against annexation, but doesn’t threaten sanctions

Non-binding motion proposed by ruling parties says unilateral move would ‘jeopardize Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state’; far-right AfD signals tacit support

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

Illustrative: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center in red, addresses the Bundestag ahead of a EU summit in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Illustrative: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center in red, addresses the Bundestag ahead of a EU summit in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The German parliament on Wednesday passed a resolution calling on the government in Berlin to use its close relationship with Israel to dissuade Jerusalem from implementing its planned unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank.

But the non-binding motion, passed with the votes of the two major centrist parties that make up the governing coalition, rejected calls for possible sanctions against the Jewish state as unproductive.

The resolution passed with a comfortable majority, including some votes from the opposition Free Democratic Party, known as the Bundestag’s most pro-Israel slate.

“We reject unilateral changes of borders, and we won’t recognize them,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in the parliamentary debate that preceded the vote. “Now it’s about creating space for diplomacy.”

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians “cannot be achieved through unilateral steps but only through serious negotiations,” Maas added.

Germany, based on its history, has a “special responsibility for peace and security in Israel and the wider region,” German’s top diplomat said.

But Berlin is equally committed to the global order based on respect for international law, and it is possible that an Israeli annexation would lead to a clash between these two values, he went on.

“If there’s a conflict, we need to be ready to bear it. Remaining silent is not an option. And that will then have to be tolerated by those responsible for it.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gives a statement to the media following his meeting with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, abstained.

“The AfD position is not to tell Israel what to do, considering our history,” its chief parliamentary whip Bernd Baumann said at a press conference several hours before the vote.

During the parliamentary debate, AfD MP Anton Friesen suggested that his party was not necessarily opposed to an Israeli annexation.

“The Jewish state conducts a realistic, national-conservative policy,” he said approvingly. “How dare they! Yes, how dare Israel do something that is obvious and in their own national interest.”

Friesen chastised the government for rejecting the US administration’s peace plan, which serves as the basis for Israel’s annexation bid.

“Israel is acting decisively, seizing the window of opportunity the Trump peace plan offers to them. Now, we can stand on the side and shout, ‘bad, bad, bad!’ — the kindergarten style of international affairs we have come to expect from Germany, the world power of hyper-moralizing — or we can accompany this process reasonably and rationally, giving new initiatives the chance they deserve.”

Supporters of Israel had called for a demonstration against the Bundestag’s “planned condemnation of Israel” outside the Reichstag building at the same time as the lawmakers discussed the drafts of the resolution introduced by various parties.

All opposition parties had proposed their own texts about Israel’s annexation plans, but only the text tables by the so-called grand coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union the Social Democrats obtained a majority.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands during a joint press conference at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on October 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The resolution urges Berlin to use its “special relations and contacts [to Jerusalem] to express to the Israeli government our concerns and our urgent demand to refrain from an annexation of parts of the West Bank and from the continued expansion of settlements, both of which contradict international law.”

It reiterated the German position to support a negotiated two-state solution leading to a “Jewish and democratic State of Israel in recognized and permanently secure borders and an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.”

Unilateral annexation of parts of the West could “jeopardize Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state,” the resolution warns.

The lawmakers also urged the European Union to adopt a “unified position” on that matter. “The EU should seek a dialogue with the new Israeli government in order to get it to abandon its proposed annexation” and to address the “negative impact” such move could have on relations between Brussels and Jerusalem.

At the same time, the resolutions said that “discussions about unilateral sanctions or threats of sanctions have no constructive effect on a process of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.”

Germany on Wednesday took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, which means that it will play a leading role in navigating the EU’s response to a possible annexation.

So far, at least two European parliaments have passed resolutions calling on their respective governments to identify possible countermeasures with which to respond to an Israeli annexation.

On Tuesday, the Dutch parliament passed a non-binding motion urging the country’s foreign minister to “to identify options of measures possibly to be taken should Israel proceed with annexation of Palestinian territory.”

It further called annexation a “gross violation of international law” and noted that the Netherlands has in the past “taken measures against countries that violate international law.”

Earlier that day, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, hinted at possible punitive sanctions against Israel as a response to annexation.

“There is a strong bond between Israel and Europe and we want to strengthen this bond and further deepen our relations, not see them retract,” he wrote in an op-ed published by two Israeli newspapers. “However, this is what will inevitably happen if unilateral annexation goes ahead,” he added.

On Friday, the Belgian parliament passed with an overwhelming majority a resolution urging Brussels to act to prevent Israel from unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank and to actively advocate for European-wide punitive measures against Jerusalem if it proceeds with its controversial plan.

The motion urged the government of Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès “to take the initiative with third countries, at European and multilateral levels, to prevent the annexation [by] Israel of the Palestinian territories, or parts of them.”

The resolution further calls on Brussels to play a leading role in formulating a “list of efficient countermeasures geared at responding in a proportional manner to any Israeli annexation of occupied Palestinian territory.”

Also last week, more than 1,000 lawmakers from across Europe signed a statement against Israel’s planned annexation, urging decisive action to prevent the move and punitive measures if it goes ahead.

“We, parliamentarians from across Europe committed to a rules-based global order, share serious concerns about [US] President [Donald] Trump’s plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the imminent prospect of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory. We are deeply worried about the precedent this would set for international relations at large,” the statement read.

EU sanctions require unanimous support among members. Israel is counting on supportive countries such as Austria and Hungary to prevent the bloc from punishing the Jewish state if annexation goes ahead.

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