Israel Has Shifted 'From Annexation to Normalization,' Foreign Minister Says

Speaking alongside his German counterpart in Berlin, Ashkenazi argues UAE agreements shows 'only through dialogue can we make progress,' as Pompeo discusses 'regional peace' with Omani leader

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Ashkenazi speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020.
Ashkenazi speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020.Credit: MICHELE TANTUSSI/ REUTERS
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said Thursday that Israeli policy "moved from annexation to normalization," in the wake of the U.S.-brokered deal to normalize ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Ashkenazi spoke during a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin. "I think it's very clear and it's very tangible that Israel government policy moved from annexation to normalization. That's real, that's concrete," Ashkenazi said.

UAE officials have said stopping Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank, a key promise in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's latest election campaign, was a main concern for the Gulf country in reaching an agreement with Israel.

After the deal was announced two weeks ago, Netanyahu said his annexation plans are still "on the table," but U.S. President Donald Trump denied Netanyahu's claim, stressing that Israel "agreed not to do it."

"We left the door open for our neighbors, now it's up to their decision and their choice," Ashkenazi said in Berlin. "What happened with the UAE is a very strong demonstration that only through dialogue and negotiations can we make progress."

Sources in the Likud party said Thursday that Ashkenazi’s remarks on the normalization deal with the UAE were “irrelevant,” because he “knew nothing about” the agreement.

“Netanyahu has worked for many years to bring about this historic peace agreement, and other peace agreements [which are] under way, under the principle of peace for peace and not territories for peace, contrary to the position of the left.”

“The attempt by Ashkenazi and his friends to present this as if Kahol Lavan had brought about a historic peace agreement with the UAE and the unprecedented change in Israel's policy and status in the region is ridiculous,” they said.

On Wednesday, the Israeli foreign minister met with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the two discussed security, economic, health and political agendas, as well as the normalization deal with the UAE, Ashkenazi wrote on his Twitter account.

Ashkenazi thanked Steinmeier for his support of Israel and for outlawing the entirety of the Hezbollah organization.

During the visit, Ashkenazi also met with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. "Good meeting with Israeli FM @Gabi_Ashkenazi in Berlin," Borrell said on Twitter. "I congratulated him on the normalisation of relations with the UAE. The EU and Israel are ready to continue to work together."

TweetCredit: Tweet

Also on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Oman with Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, as part of a Middle East tour, advocating for normalizing ties with Israel.

The two, according to Pompeo, discussed "the importance of building regional peace, stability, and prosperity through a united Gulf Cooperation Council."

Sultan Haitham took power in January after Sultan Qaboos bin Said died after a half century at the helm of the Gulf country.

In a turbulent region, Oman has maintained its neutrality. It has kept friendly relations with a range of regional actors, including arch-foes the United States and Iran - for whom Oman has acted as a go-between.

In 2018 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman and discussed peace initiatives in the Middle East with then-Omani leader Sultan Qaboos.

Oman praised the U.S.-sponsored accord between UAE and Israel, but has not commented on its own prospects for normalised relations.

Pompeo on Wednesday held closed-door meetings with Bahrain's royal family and top officials in the United Arab Emirates amid the Trump administration's push for Arab nations to recognize Israel.

Pompeo already traveled to Israel and Sudan on this trip through the Mideast, one that included him offering a recorded message in Jerusalem supporting President Donald Trump's reelection campaign for the Republican National Convention. That speech cast aside his own advice to American diplomats to be apolitical and bulldozed a long tradition of non-partisanship by previous secretaries of state.

The diplomatic recognition of Israel may help the United Arab Emirates purchase advanced American weapons, such as the F-35 fighter jet. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered public objections to the deal, Trump has said the Emiratis wanted to purchase the jet after the accord.

As a rule, Israel opposes the sale of F-35s and other advanced weapons to any country in the Middle East to maintain what it calls its “qualitative military edge.” Israel now is the only country in the region to have the fighter jet after a deal with Turkey collapsed over Ankara's purchase of Russia's S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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