United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that it was Israel’s decision whether to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, and the US will offer its views on this to the new Israeli government in private.
“As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions,” Pompeo told reporters. “That’s an Israeli decision. And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in [a] private setting.”
Pompeo also said he was “happy” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist rival Benny Gantz signed a deal on Monday to form an emergency coalition government, saying he did not think a fourth Israeli election was in Israel’s interest.
According to the joint statement, the coalition is to serve as an “emergency government” for an initial six months. During that time, no laws are to be introduced that have nothing to do with the coronavirus.
One exception however, is Israel’s intention – in accordance with US President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan – to annex the Jordan Valley and illegal Jewish settlements and other territory in the occupied West Bank, actions that would defy international law.
Netanyahu could submit these plans for approval from July, according to the statement.
Palestinians have condemned the formation of a new Israeli “annexation government”, saying the agreement would wreck hopes of peace.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in remarks aired on Wednesday that his administration would regard agreements with Israel and the US “completely cancelled” if Israel annexes land in the occupied West Bank.
“We have informed the relevant international parties, including the American and the Israeli governments, that we will not stand hand-cuffed if Israel announces the annexation of any part of our land,” Abbas said on Palestine TV.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official, said earlier this week that “very serious, challenging days” are expected, given Trump’s close relationship with Netanyahu.
“This is extremely dangerous not just for Palestine, for Israel, for the region, but for the world,” Ashrawi said.
According to several United Nations Security Council resolutions, the most recent in 2016, Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, as they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population to the area it occupies.
The Trump administration has repeatedly sided with Israel and against stances taken by the Palestinians and Arab states, including recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there.
Last year, the US government said it would no longer abide by a 1978 State Department legal opinion that the settlements were “inconsistent with international law”.