German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday that other nations would cast sanctions on Israel, and possibly officially recognize a Palestinian state, if Israel follows through on its stated intention to begin annexing part of the West Bank on July 1.
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In a meeting with Netanyahu, Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Maas added that Germany is not enthusiastic about imposing retribution measures on Israel, but that other nations are pressuring the European Union to move in that direction.
In all of his meetings with Israeli officials during his visit, Maas stressed that unilateral annexation violates international law and UN decisions, and it would be difficult for Germany to support such a move. His remarks come after the Belgian Parliament began to appeal to the government in recent weeks aiming to recognizing a Palestinian state in response to Israeli annexation. Other countries in Europe and Latin America are considering a similar move.
Maas met one-on-one with Netanyahu and discussed President Donald Trump's Middle East plan, in which Netanyahu reaffirmed "Israel's vital interests in any future arrangement, such as the need for full security control west of Jordan." The prime minister added that "every realistic plan must recognize the reality of Israeli settlements on the ground, and not foster the illusion of displacing people from their homes."
The two also discussed the coronavirus crisis and its economic repercussions. Netanyahu also stressed the need to "increase pressure on Iran," and expressed to Maas the need to halt funding to organizations that operate against Israel, said the statement by the Prime Minister's office.
In addition, Maas had a meeting with Gantz, in which the Kahol Lavan leader told him that the Trump administration's Middle East plan "represents a historic opportunity which he sees as important to advance along with the administration. All this, from responsible vision and maximum dialogue with the various parties in the area and as part of wider international dialogue."
The two also discussed, among other things, the "close relationship between Israel and Germany that is based on common values and interests." Gantz also thanked Maas "for his personal involvement in outlawing Hezbollah activities in Germany and for his long-standing commitment to combatting antisemitism and anti-Zionism," said a Defense Ministry statement.
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The statement added that the two agreed to resume talks in the coming weeks.
In his personal meeting with Ashkenazi, Maas stressed Berlin's "serious and honest concern" over Israel's stated intention to begin annexing parts of the West Bank on July 1.
Following their meeting, Ashkenazi and Maas delivered statements to the media. Ashkenazi called Trump's Middle East peace plan "an important milestone for the region," and added it represents a significant opportunity that Israel intends to pursue "responsibly and in full coordination with the United States," while maintaining current and future peace agreements, though he did not specifiy with which countries.
He also said Israel would always take into consideration Germany's position on the matter as its close friend, and noted that its assumption of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in July offers Israel a chance to strenghten its relations with the union.
He later added he expects Berlin to wait for Israel's final decision before they decide how to respond. According to Ashkenazi, maps for the plan have not been drawn up yet.
Maas said that annexation was discussed during the meeting and that he expressed his "serious and honest concern" over the matter as a special friend of Israel. Annexation does not uphold international law, Maas said, and reiterated Germany's support for a two-state solution and the resumption of peace talks.
He stressed that the two did not discuss a "price tag" for annexation, and that Germany seeks to have a dialogue on the subject. "I came here to understand what this new government's plans are." Maas commended Ashkenazi statement and said Israel seeks dialogue.
Answering a reporter's question, Maas said Germany is worried that annexation would render the two-state solution impractical.
Maas is also expected to confer with Palestinian leaders over video conference after Israel cited its coronavirus quarantine orders to prevent Maas from visiting the West Bank. He will then travel to Jordan in the evening for additional talks.
Meanwhile during the meeting, Peace Now activists protested in front of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. The activists warned that "annexation will cause a war" and called on Gantz to pledge at his meeting with the German foreign minister that he intends to prevent any attempt at unilateral annexation of territories in the West Bank.
Peace Now, the Israeli anti-occupation activist group, said in a statement that "the majority of the Israeli public prefers a political solution over unilateral annexation." Asking Gantz to stop annexation they added that "the majority of the public has voted for you [Gantz] and trust you to protect Israel's interests against dangerous delusions of an extreme minority."
This is Maas' first trip outside of Europe since the outbreak of the coronavirus erupted.
Germany is a key ally of Israel in international organizations, but is also a staunt defender of international law institutions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declarations that annexation will be promoted on July 1, in less than one month, have put Berlin in a major quandary.
On July 1, Germany will be taking over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union and will be assuming the presidency of the UN Security Council. These two roles will require the Germans to choose between their allegiance to international law and UN resolutions on the one hand, and their historical commitment to Israel on the other.
In late May, Germany and the Palestinian Authority released a joint statement expressing "grave concern" over Israel's declared intention to begin annexing parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.