Pompeo said planning Israel visit next week to meet with Netanyahu, Gantz

Talks, which have yet to be confirmed, expected to focus on West Bank annexation and the new Israeli government

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on October 18, 2019. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on October 18, 2019. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel next week and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, several Hebrew media outlets reported Wednesday.

The Ynet website said Pompeo’s visit will focus both on the new government being established in Israel and on Israel’s plan to move forward with annexing parts of the West Bank under the Trump administration’s peace plan.

There was no official confirmation of the report, though Pompeo told reporters he would soon make a travel-related announcement when asked about plans to visit Israel.

“I don’t have any travel to confirm, but I think in the upcoming hours and days you’ll see an announcement. We’re hoping to get back out and be on the ground to do the things the State Department needs to do — that we need to physically be located in those places for. We’re hoping we can get that started up before too long. It’ll start off smaller but we’re hoping to get back at it,” he said.

US Ambassador David Friedman said in an interview earlier Wednesday that Washington is ready to recognize Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank should it be declared in the coming weeks.

In an interview with the pro-ruling party Israel Hayom daily, Friedman said that it is up to Israel to decide whether it wants to move forward with annexing settlements but that if it does, Washington will recognize the move.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

“We are not declaring sovereignty, but rather Israel, and then we are ready to recognize it,” he said.

“When the mapping process is over, when the Israeli government agrees to freeze building in the same parts of Area C that aren’t designated for the application of sovereignty and when the prime minister agrees to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the Trump plan — and he already agreed to this on the first day — we’ll recognize Israel’s sovereignty in areas that according to the plan will be a part of it,” he said in comments published in Hebrew.

A spokesperson for PA President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Friedman’s remarks.

Last week, amid reports intimating that the White House was conditioning its support for Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank on negotiations over a Palestinian state, the Trump administration stressed that it continued to back Israel’s annexation plans, as long as they’re carried out in the framework of the peace plan US President Donald Trump presented on January 28.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plants a tree during an event for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, in the West Bank settlement of Mevo’ot Yeriho, in the Jordan Valley, February 10, 2020. (Flash90)

According to the proposed plan, the US will recognize an Israeli application of sovereignty over parts of the West Bank following the completion of a survey conducted by a joint US-Israel mapping committee and Israel’s acceptance of both a four-year freeze of the areas earmarked for a future Palestinian state and a commitment to negotiate with the Palestinians based on the terms of Trump’s peace deal.

Despite the stipulation that Israel impose a partial settlement freeze, Friedman told Israel Hayom that the communities in question will be able to expand within their municipal boundaries even if they are prohibited from growing their footprints on the ground.

Under the coalition deal reached between Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White party last month, the next government can begin passing legislation to annex the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements after July 1; the prospective government has yet to be formed.

After the announcement of the unity deal last month, Pompeo declared that annexation is not something for Washington to interfere with.

“The Israelis will ultimately make those decisions. That’s an Israeli decision, but we’ll work closely with them to share our views of this in a private setting,” he said during a press conference.

On April 27, a State Department spokesperson reiterated that the US was ready to recognize Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank but asked Israel’s government to also negotiate with the Palestinians.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (4th from right) tours the Efrat settlement with settler leaders on February 20, 2020. (Courtesy)

The Palestinian Authority and much of the international community has rejected the Trump plan. Senior officials in the European Union and United Nations have warned Israel against the intention to annex parts of the West Bank, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell saying that such a move “would constitute a serious violation of international law.”

The US had called on Israel to slow down on annexation when Netanyahu vowed to swiftly start annexing parts of the West Bank moments after the White House unveiled its peace proposal. Though Friedman initially backed the move happening immediately upon the release of the Trump plan, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and the chief architect of the plan, said publicly he expected Israel to wait at least until after Knesset elections and the formation of a new Israeli government.

In his remarks to Israel Hayom, Friedman asserted that Israelis across the political spectrum supported the Trump plan and that “just as Americans would never relinquish the area on which the Statue of Liberty stands, even though it’s a very small area, Israel would never agree to give up” settlements like Beit El and Hebron.

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