Israeli defense chief says West Bank annexation 'will wait'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 29 June 2020

Israeli defense chief says West Bank annexation 'will wait'

JERUSALEM: Israel’s defense minister says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to begin annexing West Bank territory will have to wait due to the country’s coronavirus crisis.
Benny Gantz, who also holds the title of alternative prime minister, told his Blue and White Party on Monday that his top priority is helping the country navigate the health and economic crisis stemming from the coronavirus.
“Anything unrelated to the battle against the coronavirus will wait,” he said.
Netanyahu has said he wants to begin annexing occupied land as soon as this week.
The UN’s human rights chief on Monday said that Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank would have “disastrous” consequences for the region, as US and Israeli officials were meeting in Jerusalem to try and finalize the move.
The warning by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, added to the growing chorus of international voices urging Israel not to annex territory in line with President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan.
The UN secretary-general, the European Union and key Arab countries have all spoken out against annexation, saying it would violate international law and all but destroy any remaining hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.
“The precise consequences of annexation cannot be predicted,” Bachelet said in a statement issued by her office in Geneva. “But they are likely to be disastrous for the Palestinians, for Israel itself, and for the wider region.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry accused Bachelet of politicizing her office and noted that it froze ties with her office early this year due to what it called her “one-sided” attitude.
“It is not surprising that she decided today to join the Palestinian campaign against the American peace plan, and to publish declarations before any decision has been made,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Trump plan, unveiled in January, envisions leaving some 30% of the West Bank under permanent Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians autonomy in the remainder of the area.
The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for a fully independent state. Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, clearing the way for Hamas militants to seize control two years later.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong supporter of Trump, has been unswayed by the international criticism. He says the supportive Trump presidency has provided a rare opportunity to redraw the Mideast map and annex Israel’s scores of settlements, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley. He has pledged to move forward as soon as July 1, seeking to take action well before the US presidential election in November.
In a speech to evangelical Christian supporters of Israel late Sunday, Netanyahu said Trump’s plan “finally puts to rest the two-state illusion” and would “advance peace.”
“President Trump’s plan doesn’t really change the reality on the ground. It recognizes the reality on the ground,” he said.
Netanyahu’s coalition partner, Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, however, has appeared to be more cautious. Both Netanyahu and Gantz were meeting with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to work on a final map outlining which areas will be annexed. The talks were continuing after a series of meetings in Washington last week ended inconclusively.
Gantz was quoted by Israeli media as saying that Netanyahu’s target date of this Wednesday is not “sacred.” The plan has also come under surprising criticism from West Bank settler leaders, who believe it does not go far enough and say that any plan that envisions even a watered-down Palestinian state must be opposed.
Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu is considering scaling back his plans and is expected to annex just a small number of settlements in a largely symbolic move.
But in her statement, Bachelet warned that even a small annexation would create a “highly combustible mix.”
She said deepening Israel’s control of West Bank land would likely harm Palestinian freedom of movement, turn Palestinian population centers into “enclaves” and clear the way for Israel to “illegally” expropriate Palestinian land.
“The shockwaves of annexation will last for decades, and will be extremely damaging to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians,” Bachelet warned. “However there is still time to reverse this decision.”
Dozens of Jewish legal scholars, meanwhile, sent a letter to the Israeli government urging Israel to drop the annexation plan.
The letter, sponsored by the Global Jewish Coalition, an umbrella group of liberal pro-Israel Jewish groups, said annexation would “fundamentally breach” international law and expose Israel to “new and grave dangers.”


Iraq’s foreign minister makes first visit to Iran

Updated 3 min 18 sec ago

Iraq’s foreign minister makes first visit to Iran

  • Iran sees neighboring Iraq as a possible route to bypass US sanctions that President Donald Trump re-imposed in 2018

TEHRAN: Iraq’s foreign minister arrived Saturday in Tehran for bilateral talks with senior Iranian officials, according to the state-run news agency.
IRNA reported that Fuad Hussein planned to meet his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, in what marked his first visit to the Iranian capital.
Zarif visited Baghdad in mid-July, when he met with Hussein and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. It was Zarif’s first visit to Iraq since a US airstrike in January killed a top Iranian general, Qassim Soleimani, outside Baghdad’s international airport. The strike catapulted Iraq to the brink of a US-Iran proxy war that could have destabilized the Middle East.
After Zarif’s trip, the Iraqi premier visited Iran in July.
The report did not elaborate on the main reasons behind the top Iraqi diplomat’s two-day trip to Tehran.
Iran sees neighboring Iraq as a possible route to bypass US sanctions that President Donald Trump re-imposed in 2018 after pulling the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
Last year, Iran’s exports to Iraq amounted to nearly $9 billion, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday. It said the two nations will discuss increasing the amount to $20 billion.
Before the current global pandemic, some 5 million Iranian pilgrims annually brought in nearly $5 billion visiting Iraq’s Shiite holy sites.
Iran has seen the worst outbreak in the region, with more than 443,000 thousand confirmed cases and at least 25,300 deaths.
A news website affiliated with Iranian state TV, yjc.ir, reported that Iran canceled all its flights to Iraqi cities until the religious holiday of Arbaeen, due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. The holiday marks the end of the forty days of mourning that follow annually on the death anniversary of the seventh-century Muslim leader Hussein, who was killed at the Battle of Karbala during the tumultuous first century of Islam’s history.
Iran fought an eight-year war with Iraq that killed nearly 1 million people on both sides, after former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded in the early 1980s.