Maas says annexation incompatible with international law, warns Germany can’t protect Israel from punitive steps from other countries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on June 10, 2020
(photo credit: GPO)
Member states of the European Union are putting pressure to impose sanctions on Israel if it goes ahead with its plan to annex parts of the West Bank next month, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
The first high-level dignitary to visit Jerusalem since establishment of the new government, Maas arrived on Wednesday to try and convince Netanyahu to back down from his plan to begin the process of unilaterally annexing up to 30 percent of the West Bank on July 1.
In addition to pressures within the EU – Israel’s biggest trading partner – to adopt punitive measures against Israel if it moves forward with annexation, Maas said that there are steps member states could individually take to downgrade cooperation and trade with Israel. He said the states could also move forward with recognizing a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu told Maas that any peace plan must take Israeli settlements into account. “Any realistic plan must recognize the reality of Israeli settlement in the territory and not nurture the delusion of uprooting people from their homes,” he said.
Israel must have full security control west of the Jordan River, Netanyahu said.
During a press conference with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi earlier in the day, Maas warned that annexation would be incompatible with international law and make a two-state solution impossible.
“I will continue… to reiterate the German position and explain our serious and honest worries as a very special friend of Israel about the possible consequences of such a move,” he said.
“We share these views with our European partners, and we are of the view that annexation does not go together with international law… We continue to stand for an agreed-upon two-state solution,” Maas said.
Germany will assume the six-month presidency of the European Council and the one-month leadership of the UN Security Council on July 1, the earliest date the coalition agreement between Blue and White and Likud stipulates for a vote on extending sovereignty. Berlin has expressed particular concern at balancing its special ties with Israel with keeping the frameworks of the EU and international law.
Remarks about annexation by Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz and Ashkenazi were markedly different from Netanyahu’s. US Ambassador David Friedman is expected to try to bridge those gaps in a meeting of all four on Sunday.
In the press conference with Maas, Ashkenazi repeatedly cited the lack of a decision in response to questions about the details of how Israel would implement Trump’s peace plan, saying there is no annexation map yet.
“We are at the beginning of discussions… No decision has been made; it’s a bit early,” he said. “Once a decision has been made, we can give details.”
Gantz and Ashkenazi both called the plan an “opportunity” and emphasized that it should be implemented “responsibly” in dialogue with the US.
“The plan will be pursued responsibly, in full coordination with the US, while maintaining Israel’s peace agreements and strategic interests,” Ashkenazi said. “We intend to do it in a dialogue with our neighbors. Israel wants peace and security.”
Regarding European and specifically German concerns over annexation, Ashkenazi said: “As one of our closest friends, it is important to listen to your perspective and to take it into consideration.”
Asked about the status of Palestinians if Israel proceeds with annexation, he said: “The plan defines the status of the residents. The plan stipulates that Israelis remain Israeli and Palestinians remain under the Palestinian Authority until an eventual state is established. The Trump administration’s “Vision for Peace” would create Palestinian enclaves within sovereign Israel and Israeli enclaves within an eventual Palestinian state rather than have each side accept the other as citizens.
Ashkenazi also called for Germany to wait for the Israeli decision before responding to the possibility of annexation.
He and Maas “did not discuss possible steps Germany will take” in response to annexation, he said.
All three of Maas’s Israeli interlocutors impressed upon him the importance of putting pressure on Iran.
They discussed Iran’s further violations of the nuclear deal with world powers, with Gantz urging Maas to be active against Iranian aggression in the EU and UNSC.
“There must be an assertive policy to ensure necessary inspections that will prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons that will endanger the whole world,” Gantz said.
In a report last weekend, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran refused to grant inspectors access to undeclared military nuclear sites and posited that those sites may have been used for storing or processing nuclear material.
In response to a question at the press conference with Ashkenazi, Maas said Germany is aware of and disturbed by Iran’s violations, and it plans to invoke the agreement’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism in light of the latest revelations.
Iran is the biggest threat to regional stability, Ashkenazi said.
“Their nuclear program and regional ambitions remain a great concern,” he said. “We will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons, and we will not allow Iranian entrenchment on our borders. The international community must hold Iran accountable and act strongly against Iran’s malign activities.”
At the beginning of their press conference, Maas and Ashkenazi signed an agreement for German funding of Yad Vashem over the next 10 years.