German FM voices ‘serious concerns’ over Israeli annexation plan

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Germany and its European partners have “serious concerns” over Israel s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Jerusalem Wednesday.

The first high-level European visitor to Israel since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Maas brought a message of disquiet to Israel which he later reiterated in neighbouring Jordan.

Speaking in Jerusalem, Maas expressed “our honest and serious concerns… about the possible consequences of such a step”.

Israel has signalled it intends to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, as proposed by US President Donald Trump, with initial steps slated to begin from July 1, the same day Germany takes the rotating EU presidency.

“Together with the European Union, we believe that annexation would not be compatible with international law,” Maas told a joint press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, calling instead for the resumption of talks towards a two-state solution.

The bloc has yet to agree on how to react if Israel presses ahead with annexation or whether to impose sanctions on Israel.

“I don t think much of the politics of issuing threats at a stage when no decision has been taken yet” by Israel, Maas said.

Ashkenazi called Trump s initiative “an important milestone” and a “significant opportunity”.

“The plan will be pursued responsibly, in full coordination with the United States” while maintaining Israel s existing and future “peace agreements … and strategic interests”, he said.

Following talks with Ashkenazi, Germany s top diplomat met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who forged a new unity government last month.

Israeli annexation forms part of the US peace plan Trump unveiled in January, which paves the way for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

A statement from Netanyahu s office cited him telling his German guest that “any realistic plan would have to recognise the reality of Israeli settlements, and not feed the illusion of uprooting people from their homes.”

Trump s proposals exclude core Palestinian demands such as a capital in east Jerusalem and have been rejected by the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians have sent a counter-proposal envisaging a “sovereign Palestinian state, independent and demilitarised” to the Quartet, made up of the UN, US, EU and Russia, Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Tuesday.

“We want Israel to feel international pressure,” Shtayyeh said.

Maas then travelled on to Amman, where he held a video conference with Shtayyeh and met his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi.

Last month, Jordan s King Abdullah II told German magazine Der Spiegel that Israeli annexation risked sparking a “conflict” with his country.

Maas said that “as a direct neighbour, Jordan is more directly affected than any other country by any developments” in the coming weeks pertaining to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

He warned that “unilateral steps by either side will not bring us any closer” to a negotiated two-state solution, would impact regional stability and bear “great, great potential for escalation”.

Safadi warned it was “imperative …to stop annexation because ultimately it is a path to institutionalise apartheid of Palestine and that is not a recipe for peace”.

Speaking in Arabic, he added that annexation would “not be without a response from Jordan”.

While Berlin shares Amman s opposition to annexation, the EU has not yet announced any retaliatory measures.

Europe holds significant financial clout in Israel as the country s top business partner, with trade totalling 30 billion euros ($34 billion) last year, according to EU figures.

Sanctions would need the approval of all 27 member states.

Some European countries could formally recognise a Palestinian state but, according to an Israeli official, Germany would not be one of them.

“Germany even with annexation would not recognise a Palestinian state and is not going to support sanctions against Israel,” he told AFP.

The French foreign ministry on Wednesday reiterated its support for a two-state solution as “the only way to reach just and lasting peace, and regional stability”.

While in Jerusalem, Maas also discussed Israeli foe Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Berlin was one European party to a landmark 2015 accord to curb Iran s nuclear activities from which Trump has since withdrawn.

Maas also condemned Iran s “incitement or glorification” of militancy in the region and its calls for the destruction of Israel, stressing that “Israel s right to exist is not negotiable”.

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