Praising government-to-be, Pompeo says West Bank annexation is up to Israel

Secretary of state says Washington will share views on matter privately, asserts US would be happy to provide more aid to Palestinians, but is concerned it’s not reaching them

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing on April 8, 2020  in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House, in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing on April 8, 2020 in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House, in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Lauding Israel’s newly announced deal for a unity government, which is slated to begin advancing measures to annex large parts of the West Bank in July, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the matter 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 the sealing of a deal for the formation of a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, Pompeo added, “a fourth election we think wouldn’t have been in their best interest, but we’ll leave that to them. We think it’s not in the world’s best interest. We’re glad there’s now a fully formed government.”

Responding to Pompeo’s remarks, the B’Tselem rights group said they “closed the gap between what Israel – with American support – says, and what both governments do.”

“De-facto annexation and the reality of Apartheid are not waiting for July 1: they have long since arrived. At least Jerusalem and Washington are ceasing to lie about their intentions – and actions. The international community must stop stuttering and take action against the reality already in place, independent of any additional Israeli action,” the left-wing group said.

According to the unity agreement inked on Monday, Netanyahu “will be able to bring the agreement reached with the US on the application of sovereignty [in the West Bank]… for the approval of the cabinet and/or the Knesset starting July 1, 2020.”

Moreover, the deal stipulates that Netanyahu and Gantz will act in “full agreement with the US, including on the issue of [West Bank] maps, and in dialogue with the international community.”

Washington has largely given its blessing to Israel’s annexation efforts, saying it would rescind its veto once a government has been formed and a joint US-Israel mapping team has completed its efforts to determine exactly which West Bank land Israel will be allowed annex. Their work has been hindered due to the coronavirus, though the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office told the Makor Rishon newspaper that the pandemic has not forced a total cessation of efforts.

Still, some analysts speculate that Washington may be more hesitant to allow such a far-reaching move to go forward just months before the November presidential election.

Gantz and Netanyahu will advance the Trump peace plan, “while pursuing the security and strategic interests, maintaining regional stability, [maintaining existing] peace agreements and striving for future ones,” the agreement further reads.

Though Gantz is believed to oppose unilateral annexation, he has agreed to allow Netanyahu to bring the matter to a Knesset vote, and enact it if he gets a majority — which he is almost ensured.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (C) speaks to reporters during a visit to the Jordan Valley on January 21, 2020. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)

Aid to the Palestinians

The secretary of state was asked to comment on Washington’s decision to send $5 million in aid for Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank and whether such a sum would be sufficient.

The US pledged the relatively small, but symbolic one-time donation last week after having previously cut all foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.

“We were happy to provide that assistance. We hope it’ll get to the right place. The reason we decided to stop providing assistance previously was that those resources weren’t getting to where they need to, to the Palestinian people,” he said, without elaborating on his apparent allegation that the Palestinian Authority had been misusing US aid.

Opening the door to the possibility of additional aid, Pompeo said “we’ll evaluate whether those five million dollars both worked, [were] delivered and… if there [are] more resources that are appropriate and can be delivered.”

US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

According to a press release issued by the State Department, the sum comes from the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, an organizational unit within the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that deals with the government’s disaster relief.

Responding to a query from The Times of Israel, a US State Department official clarified that the $5 million in aid to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank will not violate the Taylor Force Act, which slashes funding to the Palestinians as long as Palestinian authorities continue payments to the families of Palestinians jailed or killed for attacks on Israelis.

“USAID is providing $5 million from International Disaster Assistance funds to an implementer for COVID-19 response in the West Bank,” the official said last week. “The Taylor Force Act does not apply to the use of International Disaster Assistance funds to provide immediate, life-saving assistance to Palestinian hospitals and households battling the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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