West Bank annexation could alienate Gulf, but won’t incur EU sanctions – experts
search

West Bank annexation could alienate Gulf, but won’t incur EU sanctions – experts

Scope of international backlash against the Jewish state is unclear, as it is not yet known what action Israel plans to take and how Palestinians will respond

View of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank on June 17, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)
View of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank on June 17, 2020. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

If Israel presses ahead with annexations in the West Bank, it risks undermining improved ties with key Arab states and alienating European powers, but the real diplomatic costs remain uncertain, experts said.

The possible scope of international backlash against the Jewish state is unclear, as it is not yet known what action Israel plans to take toward implementing a US-proposed peace plan in the coming days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government set July 1 as the date it could initiate action on US President Donald Trump’s proposals, which pave the way for annexing West Bank territory, including all Jewish settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Annexation is just one part of Trump’s plan, which also calls for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state, largely encircled by Israel, with a capital outside of Jerusalem — terms roundly rejected by the Palestinians.

The Trump administration has stopped short of giving Israel a full-throated green light for annexations, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that decisions on next steps are Israel’s to make.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points at a map of the Jordan Valley as he gives a statement, promising to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Ahead of the July 1 possible kickoff date, Netanyahu’s coalition — which includes annexation skeptics — is weighing the price of moving forward.

EU ‘needs the Israelis, but not the Palestinians’

The EU, Israel’s top economic partner, has in recent weeks mounted a diplomatic campaign against annexation, highlighted by a visit to Jerusalem by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to raise concern about the prospective plans.

But the bloc cannot threaten Israel with formal sanctions, as those require unanimous support among members.

Austria and Hungary have already refused to condemn Israel over prospective annexation, while the leaders of Greece and Cyprus were in the Jewish state earlier this month for talks on energy cooperation.

In this February 10, 2020, photo Palestinian farmers harvest onions in Jordan Valley in the West Bank (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Aside from formal sanctions, the EU could curtail other areas of cooperation with Israel, actions that would not require unanimous member-state support.

But a European diplomat told AFP that any response against Israel will be weighed against the possible loss of access to Israeli technology, including related to security, which is highly valued by some EU members.

“We need the Israelis, but not the Palestinians,” said the diplomat on condition of anonymity.

How will Gulf states respond?

In a rare op-ed in an Israeli newspaper, the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, warned earlier in June that annexation of parts of the West Bank would jeopardize any warming of Arab-Israeli ties.

Describing it as the “illegal seizure of Palestinian land,” Otaiba said “plans for annexation and talk of normalization are a contradiction.”

Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, told AFP the severity of the response in the Gulf depends “on what Israel actually does, and the Palestinian reaction.”

Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba during an event with US House Speaker Paul Ryan, at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, January 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

If there is substantial Palestinian violence in response to any announcement, “we’ll see a harsher reaction” in the Gulf, he said.

Gulf leaders “can’t turn their back to the Palestinians — they have public opinion to consider,” he said, adding Arab leaders could suffer “if they appear to be not only abandoning the Palestinian cause, but collaborating with Israel.”

But Guzanky stressed there are two levels of Israeli-Gulf cooperation: discreet links that generally involve security, and public deals, including on commercial interests.

Regardless of any annexation steps, “I don’t think the secret intelligence cooperation will cease,” Guzansky said, noting that common foe Iran “isn’t going anywhere.”

An announcement last week that private Emirati and Israeli companies intend to join forces to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic could be the type of deal that is rolled back, he explained.

Chaim Levinson, a senior correspondent with Israel’s left-wing Haaretz newspaper, stressed that speculation about diplomatic fallout is premature, as Israel may in fact take no action on Trump’s plan, or may announce a symbolic gesture with no impact on the ground.

“I think it is too early to determine what will happen in the end, because no one knows what will happen in the beginning,” he said on the paper’s weekly podcast.

read more:
comments