Israel is about to get into a new diplomatic clash with Europe. On 1 May, ambassadors of a number of European states to Israel slammed Tel Aviv’s plans to annex the whole of the West Bank, as recently revealed by the new Netanyahu-Gantz coalition government.
These countries include Britain, Germany, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Finland. Even the European Union (EU) itself was part of the formal objection. “We are very concerned about the clause in the coalition agreement that paves the way for annexing parts of the West Bank. The annexation of any part of the West Bank constitutes a clear violation of international law,” the ambassadors stated.
“Such unilateral steps will harm efforts to renew the peace process and will have grave consequences for regional stability and for Israel’s standing in the international arena.”
They also called on Israel to freeze its construction plans in the Givat Hamatos neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.
This is the second European statement in less than 10 days that challenges Israeli state policies against the Palestinians. The EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell straightforwardly said 23 April that the regional organisation’s “position on the status of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 remains unchanged”. “In line with international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), the European Union does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Occupied West Bank,” he said.
Borrell pointed out that the EU “reiterates that any annexation constitutes a serious violation of international law. The European Union will continue to closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and will act accordingly.”
In response, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz, said: “It’s unfortunate that Josep Borrell, who pretends to be responsible for the foreign relations of the European Union, chooses in this manner to welcome a new government and a central partner to the EU and prefers to see relations between Israel and the EU through the prism of the [Covid-19] pandemic and the ‘status of the territories.’”
As soon as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz declared their coalition deal, both stressed that Israel will claim sovereignty over the whole of the West Bank on 1 July and move forward with US President Donald Trump’s controversial “Deal of the Century” peace plan.
This escalatory tone was followed by acts of condemnation by Palestinian leaders, the Arab League and even the Arab Joint List, a political alliance of Arab political parties that have seats in the Israeli Knesset.
Last week, the Council of Arab Ambassadors to the United Nations slammed Israel’s “illegal policies and annexation agenda” for “Palestinian land” and pointed out that “virtually all Security Council members and the larger membership of the UN” have “condemned these policies”. Arab League chief Ahmed Abul-Gheit, one week earlier, told UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that such plans will “ignite tensions in the region” and accused Israel of “exploiting the world’s preoccupation with the novel coronavirus to impose a new reality on the ground”.
Abdel-Mahdi Metawei, a Palestinian political analyst who is close to the Palestinian Authority, told Al-Ahram Weekly last week that Israel will not succeed because of strong Arab and European opposition to the Trump deal. Netanyahu, he added, is concerned about a potential failure by Trump to get re-elected as president despite the former’s interest in “writing his name” in Israel’s history as the prime minister who launched a full-scale annexation plan and earned US approval for it.
However, Daniel Serwer, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said he doubts that European-Arab pressures would stop such a plan. He believes that vocal condemnations are the farthest they can go in their clash with Israel. “What can they do except denounce the annexation and refuse to recognise it? This will become one more source of friction in the trans-Atlantic relationship,” Serwer argued.
Trump’s “Deal of the Century” plan recognises Jerusalem as “Israel’s undivided capital”, giving a capital for a potential Palestinian state in northern and eastern neighbourhoods of the city, outside the Israeli security barrier. A small number of Palestinians will be given the right to return to their nation, while Israel will enjoy security control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly