JERUSALEM: Germany’s foreign minister on Wednesday warned Israel that its plan to begin annexing parts of the West Bank would violate international law, but he declined to say how Germany or Europe would respond.
The visit to Jerusalem — Heiko Maas’ first trip outside of Europe since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic — comes just weeks before Israel intends to extend its sovereignty over Jewish West Bank settlements, in line with President Donald Trump’s controversial Mideast plan.
The annexation plan has come under harsh criticism from some of Israel’s closest allies, including Germany, who say that unilaterally redrawing the Mideast map would destroy any lingering hopes for establishing a Palestinian state and reaching a two-state peace agreement.
Speaking at a news conference, Maas said that Germany and the European Union were seeking clarity about the Israeli plan, but he made clear that Europe considers annexation incompatible with international law.
“I didn’t set up any price tags. We are also in agreement in the EU that we seek dialogue with all parties to this process. I am here in Israel to receive information about the plans of the new government,” Maas said, standing alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. “We still believe the negotiated two-state solution is the right way, that annexation will not make this solution more probable.”
Germany, already a key European power broker, will be taking over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union and assuming the presidency of the UN Security Council on July 1, the same day Israel says it may begin unfurling its plan.
The EU has also made clear that it is opposed to annexation and considers it illegal under international law. For now, though, diplomats are trying to engage Israeli officials and convey the message that unilateral annexation would have negative repercussions on relations. But they have not indicated how the EU might respond.
“I made clear that the German government and the colleagues in the EU are very worried that annexation can lead to the two-state solution no longer being viable and that we are on the wrong path,” he added. “It’s the time of diplomacy and dialogue.”
Ashkenazi, a former military chief who recently assumed his post with the establishment of a new Israeli government, sought to assure his guest.
“The plan will be pursued responsibly,” he said. “We intend to do it in a dialogue with our neighbors.”
Maas is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Later in the day, he will travel to neighboring Jordan to meet his counterpart there and hold a conference call with Palestinian leaders.
The US plan envisions leaving about one third of the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, under permanent Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians expanded autonomy in the remainder of the territory. The Palestinians, who seek all of the West Bank as part of an independent state, have rejected the plan, saying it overwhelmingly favors Israel.
In response, they have cut off key security ties with Israel and say they are no longer bound to agreements signed. The moves have raised concerns of a return to violence if annexation is carried out. Israel’s defense minister has urged the military to hasten preparations for what could be fierce Palestinian protests.
The proposal also faces opposition within Israel, where many fear that annexation is a step that could lead to the creation of a single bi-national state with the Palestinians. Even some hard-line settlers oppose the plan, saying it doesn’t go far enough.
But Netanyahu appears eager to press forth before the US election in November, when Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee who has said he opposes annexation, could replace Trump.
Netanyahu has lauded Trump’s nearly blanket support for his policies and hailed annexation as a historic opportunity to establish Israel’s permanent borders, and retain control of strategic frontiers without having to evacuate a single settler. Previous peace plans have all included calls for far greater Israeli concessions.
Netanyahu made annexation a key campaign pledge before the country’s most recent third election in under a year, and conditioned his otherwise equally divided government with Gantz upon having a final say on the matter.