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Germany won’t sanction Israel over annexation – Jerusalem official

Berlin won’t cause ‘major upset’ despite stressing move would harm relations, source says ahead of visit by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

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)
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)

Germany will not respond harshly to Israel’s planned unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank, a diplomatic official in Jerusalem said Monday.

While annexation would likely cause a certain degree of damage to bilateral ties, Berlin has made plain that it does not plan to enact sanctions against the Jewish state or recognize a Palestinian state, the official said.

“Germany will not go off the deep end,” he added, speaking to Israeli reporters on conditions of anonymity. “The Germans are not in favor of sanctions, and will not recognize a Palestinian state. They are pragmatic. Their main goal is to guarantee [regional] stability. They don’t want to cause a major upset. Rather, they are going to look for ways to encourage us and the Palestinians to return to talks.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is due in Israel on Wednesday for a meeting with his counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi. Berlin is staunchly opposed to annexation and has made its view unmistakably clear.

“But the way, I know the Germans — their response will likely be more in the area of atmosphere,” the official said. “They will become less open to listen to us and our worries, and it may become more difficult for us to get them to help us in various arenas.”

Germany can also be expected to orient its response to annexation to Israel’s neighbors, the official went on. “If they see that Jordan’s and Egypt’s reactions will be less harsh than expected, the Germans will be more forgiving as well.” But even in the worst-case scenario of violence and Jordan canceling its peace agreement with Israel, the Germans will remain moderate in their response, the official said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas addresses the media at the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany on June 3, 2020. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

Maas is set to warn Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against annexing parts of the West Bank during his visit, saying the move will harm Israel’s ties with the European Union and with Germany, despite the importance of the relationship to Berlin, according to a Channel 13 report Friday.

Amid stiff opposition from the EU, and ambivalence from the US, which is grappling with multiple domestic crises, Netanyahu has said he is intent on going forward with annexation. He has repeatedly declared determination to unilaterally annex all the settlements and the Jordan Valley, a total of some 30 percent of the West Bank, provided he has American support.

The premier has been working in the past few weeks on developing high-resolution maps for the process, based on the Trump administration peace plan maps, and intends to have the outline approved by either government ministers or the Knesset, the TV report said.

Maas will also meet with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the report said, citing senior Israeli officials and European diplomatic sources.

German representatives will assume the presidency of both the European Union and the UN’s Security Council on July 1, the same day annexation can go forward according to the new Israeli government’s coalition agreement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, on March 26, 2018. (GPO / Kobi Gideon)

Maas intends to make it clear to Israel that unilateral annexation will force Germany into choosing between its alliance with Israel, and international law and the values of the European Union, the report said.

Maas in recent weeks held talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the issue of annexation, expressing his grave concerns about the move. He also spoke to Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

Germany is seeking to find a way to prevent an international crisis caused by annexation and present an alternative that will allow for renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Several days after Maas’s visit, there is expected to be a major summit of European foreign ministers to discuss annexation. Both senior Israeli officials and European diplomats believe that if unilateral annexation goes forward, as Netanyahu desires, European states could level sanctions against Israel.

However, Channel 12 News reported that if the annexation does not take place in July, it could be postponed indefinitely due to the political situation in the US, with President Donald Trump expected to be preoccupied with the upcoming November elections.

The report said that if the annexation is torpedoed, Netanyahu could use it as an excuse to call another round of elections.

Last month, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, indicated that American backing for Israeli annexation in the West Bank was contingent on Israel working within the framework of the Trump plan. The Palestinians have rejected the plan outright.

In this February 18, 2020, photo, a view of the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Efraim on the hills of the Jordan Valley. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The US administration is highly unlikely to approve an Israeli move to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank by the July 1 date envisioned by Netanyahu, a well-placed source told The Times of Israel last week.

In fact, it could take weeks and possibly months before a committee charged with mapping the territory concludes its work, which the White House has declared as a precondition that must be met before it would give a green light for annexation, the source said.

Some politicians and top settler leaders have publicly come out against the US plan in recent days, led by Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani, who told the Haaretz daily that Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner have shown through their peace proposal — which includes the creation of a Palestinian state — that “they are not friends of the State of Israel.”

Adding to the imbroglio, Jerusalem and Heritage Minister Rafi Peretz said Friday that he would oppose parts of the Trump plan, saying he would not accept the establishment of the Palestinian state included in the outline.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Thursday that the Israeli government has not fully adopted the White House plan, indicating that Jerusalem could be planning to accept only the parts that favor Israel, such as annexation of areas of the West Bank, and not others, such as the recognition of a future Palestinian state.

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