Pompeo adviser ‘confident’ Israel will weigh risk to UAE ties before annexation

As White House officials reportedly try to decide whether to support Netanyahu’s West Bank plan, David Schenker seems to urge Jerusalem not to undermine peace plan

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 19, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 19, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)

A senior adviser to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told an Israeli radio station Monday that he was “confident” that Israel would consider the reaction of Arab Gulf states and the ramifications such a move would have on ties with them before it went ahead with a plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

The veiled warning from David Schenker, who heads the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the US State Department, came as the US enthusiasm for such a move has appeared to cool amid vociferous opposition from American allies in the Middle East, particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“It is no secret that the Emirates and other states in the region are concerned about annexation, so Israel has a number of decisions before it,” Schenker told the Kan public broadcaster. “I am confident that they will take all these factors into consideration.”

Officials in US President Donald Trump’s administration are reportedly set to hold a “decisive” meeting this week on whether to approve Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared plan to start annexing the 132 West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley — the 30 percent of the territory allocated to Israel under the administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. Netanyahu has vowed to begin the process on July 1.

Schenker said that Israel’s relations with Gulf states are very important to the US, and that he was he was sure, “however Israel proceeds, that it will do so while taking steps that will preserve the administration’s vision for peace. Israel has in the past been savvy with how it handles relations with its Arab partners, and so I’m sure they will take all these factors into consideration.”

David Schenker, US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, January 10, 2020. (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

Schenker noted that the US outline was a peace plan, and that Washington was confident Israel also wants it to be a tool to achieve peace in the region.

He also vowed that the US would continue its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran on its advancing nuclear program.

Earlier this month, the UAE’s influential ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, warned in an op-ed published in Hebrew in an Israeli paper that Abu Dhabi would freeze normalization if annexation moves ahead.

On Monday, former Israeli diplomats Alon Liel, Eli Barnavi and Ilan Baruch published a joint opinion piece in UAE newspaper The National backing al-Otaiba’s position.

“Mr Al Otaiba’s statement demonstrates a sincere intention to stand up to the current Israeli government’s steps toward apartheid, as well as the Emirati people’s concern for their Palestinian neighbours,” the trio wrote.

All three former ambassadors are outspoken supporters of the creation of a Palestinian state and two of them have expressed support for boycotts of the Jewish state and settlement products.

UAE ambassador in Washington Yousef al-Otaiba. (UAE embassy website)

Administration officials are said to be increasingly split over whether to back Israel’s annexation moves. Under a coalition deal between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the government can only pursue annexation with US support. Netanyahu has said US administration’s support for annexation represents a historic opportunity, and Washington has indicated that it will not oppose Israeli annexation, but has lately signaled ambivalence about the timing of such a move.

Citing unnamed American and Israeli sources, Israel’s Channel 13 reported Saturday night that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was to fly home on Sunday for a pivotal meeting on deciding whether to back annexation, scheduled for Monday or Tuesday. It was to be attended by Pompeo, Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law and National Security Adviser Richard O’Brien.

Trump himself was “likely” to join the session, the report said, since “he’s the one who will ultimately decide” on whether to approve Israeli annexation, and if so on what scale.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right), then-US National Security Advisor John Bolton (center) and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tour the Jordan Valley on June 23, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Friedman and Pompeo are said to both back annexation moves, while Kushner, who played a central role in drafting the Trump peace proposal, is reportedly more ambivalent.

The US peace proposal has been flatly rejected by the Palestinians, but the US is said to be more concerned about Arab Gulf support for the plan and for normalization with Israel.

Israeli leaders are also split, with Netanyahu vowing to push ahead with annexation no matter what and Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, both from the centrist Blue and White party, insisting that the plan only be carried out with wider Arab support. Netanyahu has reportedly attempted to woo them by proposing smaller-scale annexation plans, and has also threatened to dissolve the Knesset if Gantz withholds his support, according to Hebrew-language media.

Netanyahu’s vows to push ahead with unilateral annexation have been condemned internationally, with European and Arab states, as well as senior members of the US Democratic Party, warning the Israeli government against doing so.

Jordanian King Abdullah II delivers a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on January 15, 2020 (Frederick FLORIN / AFP)

Jordanian King Abdullah this week deemed unilateral annexation “unacceptable” in briefings to American lawmakers, and is expected to withdraw his ambassador from Israel, downgrade ties and reconsider the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty if Netanyahu goes ahead. Abdullah also said he was trying to persuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to enter negotiations with Israel, and Jordan’s foreign minister this week reportedly told Abbas in Ramallah to telephone Trump to explain his opposition to unilateral Israeli annexation.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: