US wants Gantz to agree to annexation this summer

Foreign Ministry concerned Germany will downgrade ties over annexation; Jordanian Ambassador: Is a one-state solution what you want?

The US wants Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz to agree to extend Israeli law to parts of the West Bank before it gives Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a green light to move forward with it, and it would have to take place this summer, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

US Ambassador David Friedman took part in a meeting with Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a member of the US-Israel settlement mapping committee, to discuss annexation late Sunday night.

An American source said Gantz needs to be on board with annexation for the US to back it. One reason is because, according to Israeli law, sovereignty can be extended to land that was part of the British Mandate with only a cabinet vote. Though the Right has a majority in the cabinet, it is narrow, and the US wants broad support in Israel for the move – without having to go to the much-messier Knesset for it.

Support for sovereignty from a broad unity government would give the move more longevity and not be something that presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden could easily try to reverse.

The US also supports Netanyahu’s timeline for annexation in July – if they end up supporting it – because they do not want it to happen too close to the US election in November. The Trump administration does not want to give ammunition to its critics right before the election, in case there is major violence in the region in response to annexation.

Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz is expected to meet with settler leaders on Tuesday to discuss the Trump plan.

The 25 member Yesha Council is split on the issue, with some 12 settlers led by Efrat Council head Oded Revivi supporting the plan, while Yesha Council head David Elhayani and Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan oppose it.

On Sunday night, Revivi and a group of 10 settler leaders met with Netanyahu. According to Elkana Council head Asaf Mintzer, Netanyahu told them he was determined to apply sovereignty in July, with US support.

Gantz and Ashkenazi have yet to make their position on sovereignty in the West Bank clear. US President Donald Trump’s plan would allow Israel to extend its laws to 30% of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and all settlements, and the rest of the West Bank would be designated for a Palestinian state. Gantz has said that he supports the plan as a whole. He has also made past statements about the need for Israel to maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley.

In addition, Gantz and Ashkenazi have emphasized the need to maintain peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, which indicates that they have reservations about the plan.

Foreign Ministry sources expressed concern on Monday that Berlin may find ways to downgrade its relations with Jerusalem should Israel apply sovereignty, even if they do not institute sanctions.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to visit Israel on Wednesday, making him the first major foreign visitor since the new government was sworn in last month. Maas will meet with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Maas is expected to express Germany’s concerns over Netanyahu’s intention to extend Israel’s laws to the West Bank in July as part of Trump’s peace plan. This would coincide with Germany becoming president of the Council of the European Union for six months, starting in July, as well as of the UN Security Council for a month.

A Foreign Ministry source said that while ties with Israel are important to Germany, the relations between the countries will likely suffer as a consequence of Israel moving forward with annexation.

Berlin is unlikely to support EU sanctions on Israel or to recognize a Palestinian state outside the framework of an agreement with Israel, but may be more reticent to help Israel in various international matters and downgrade ties in other ways, the source posited.

Maas is also expected to discuss Horizon Europe, a seven-year multi-billion euro European initiative for scientific research cooperation. Israel received a billion euros in the previous seven years and is negotiating its role in the cycle beginning in 2021.

One possible punitive action in response to annexation that EU critics of Israel have mentioned is keeping Israel out of the next Horizon project. However, the Foreign Ministry source says there has not been any change in the negotiating process.

Another matter on the agenda for Maas’s visit is an agreement for Germany to support Yad Vashem for another 10 years, to the tune of a million euros each year.

Maas does not plan to visit the Palestinian Authority, opting for a video meeting with PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, because the Israeli government did not make an exemption of the mandatory two-week coronavirus quarantine for him, which would require him to be in isolation two weeks upon his return to Israel, before departing for Berlin.

Jordanian Ambassador to the US Dina Kawar addressed the situation during a zoom webinar organized by the American Jewish Committee.
“I worry right now [with] all this talk about annexation of the Jordan Valley,” she said.

“People need to realize is that annexation – not only it’s against international law, not only it will kill any idea of peace, not only that any Palestinian state that comes after should this annexation take place would be a Palestinian state that becomes an enclave of Israel with no borders with Jordan, with no access to Jordan, no access to anything,” she continued.

“Is that what we want?” Ambassador Kawar asked. “Are we moving far away from the two-state solution to become one state de facto eventually? Is that what everybody wants?”

Speaking about the Palestinian economy, she said that annexing the Jordan Valley “is taking away 60% of our agricultural produce from the Palestinians; it’s taking away Palestinian tourism on the Dead Sea. There are 70,000 Palestinians who are in the Jordan Valley. What do we do with them?”

According to the Trump plan, Israel would not annex areas where Palestinians live; they would remain in enclaves that are part of the Palestinian Authority or an eventual Palestinian state. Netanyahu has said he will not give Palestinians citizenship, and the plan does not require him to do so.

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