German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is reportedly set to come to Israel on Wednesday for an urgent visit to warn Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against annexing parts of the West Bank.
Maas will warn Netanyahu that 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 Friday Channel 13 report Friday.
Despite stiff opposition to annexation 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 days 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 Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the report said, citing senior Israeli officials and European diplomatic sources.
Maas is expected to tell the Israeli leadership that Berlin considers its strong alliance with Jerusalem to be important, and wants it to continue, but that Germany strongly opposes annexation, which will harm Israel’s ties to Germany and its relationship with the European Union.
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.
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.
He will mainly appeal to Netanyahu, but also to Gantz and Ashkenazi, to refrain from forcing Germany into such a predicament, Channel 13 reported, noting that the July 1 date for implementing annexation is not set in stone.
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 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 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 Trump expected to be preoccupied by 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.
Channel 13 also reported Friday on widespread expectations of another round of elections in Israel in 2021. According to the current coalition deal, Netanyahu is to step down and let Blue and White leader Gantz take over as prime minister in November 2021.
The growing chorus of international opposition to the process comes amid lukewarm support from Washington.
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.
“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,” Friedman said in comments published in Hebrew.
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 on Wednesday.
In fact, it could take weeks and possibly months before the mapping committee 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.
Speaking alongside Trump earlier this year as Washington unveiled the peace plan, Netanyahu did not explicitly say that he accepted the plan in its entirety, though he praised it throughout, and implied his acceptance of the terms of the deal and his commitment to fulfill all the demands made of Israel.
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 on Wednesday that Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner have shown through their peace proposal that “they are not friends of the State of Israel.”
While he conceded there was no doubt that Trump has “done wonderful things for Israel,” such as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and acting against the Iranians, the establishment of a Palestinian state is unacceptable, Elhayani said.
If Trump wants to establish a Palestinian state near the heart of Israel, between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, he said, addressing the US president, “then you are not a friend.”
Such a state, he stressed, “is a danger to Israel.”
Elhayani warned that as soon as Israel extended sovereignty to some areas it would effectively be recognizing the borders of a future Palestinian state, and that Washington intended to build on that development to implement the rest of the peace plan.
The comments drew harsh rebuke from Netanyahu and other right-wing leaders.
Netanyahu’s comments echoed what one settler leader told The Times of Israel had been the message relayed to him by American officials. He said Washington had been disappointed by the “ingratitude” demonstrated by West Bank mayors campaigning against the peace plan.
However, Elhayani doubled down on his remarks on Thursday, telling Army Radio he had no choice but to warn Israel about what he sees as a dangerous proposal.
Elhayani, who chairs the Yesha umbrella council of settlement mayors, rebuffed accusations that he was being ungrateful to Washington as it offers to recognize Israeli sovereignty, telling the station he was concerned not just for the safety of settlements in the Jordan Valley and other areas of the West Bank, but for the safety of all of Israel’s citizens.
An Israeli-US mapping committee has for the past several months been working to delineate the exact parts of the West Bank territory over which Washington is prepared to recognize Israeli sovereignty.
Elhayani and nearly a dozen other settler leaders have been insisting on seeing the map before it is finalized in order to influence how the borders will be drawn.
They have taken particular issue with the conceptual map introduced at the Trump plan’s January unveiling in Washington, which depicted 15 isolated Israeli settlements as enclaves surrounded by land earmarked for the future Palestinian state. The Palestinians have rejected the entire Trump plan outright.
Adding to the imbroglio, Jerusalem and Heritage Minister Rafi Peretz said Friday that he would oppose parts of the Trump administration’s 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.