WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that annexing parts of the West Bank is "ultimately Israel's decision to make," and that the Trump administration will present its position on the subject to Israel through official channels of communication.
In the first comment by a Trump administration official regarding the expected formation of a new government in Israel, Pompeo said the U.S. welcomed that development and is looking forward to continued cooperation with Israel.
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The matter of applying sovereignty over Israeli settlements in the West Bank was one of the key issues that delayed the signing of the agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz to form a unity government.
Speaking in a special event marking the beginning of the month of Ramadan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that “No one should delude themselves that they can take advantage of the fact that the world is busy with the coronavirus crisis to violate our rights. We will not allow anyone to violate our rights."
Abbas added that “We won’t sit with our hands crossed and do nothing if Israel declares annexation, and if that happens, we will consider the agreements forged between the Palestinians, Israel and the United States to be null and void."
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Abbas’ spokesperson, said in a statement that “The United States has no say in legitimizing an Israeli decision regarding the Palestinian territories, or oin deciding what happens to them. The Palestinians are the only ones to decide on the future of their territories.
“The president's position that any unilateral Israeli decision regarding the Palestinian territories will have dangerous implications for the region’s security and stability is clear,” Rudeineh added.
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Netanyahu promised his electorate ahead of Israel’s general election on March 2 to promote the annexation of all West Bank settlements in coordination with U.S. president Donald Trump. Gantz, however, said he would support annexation only if Israel’s neighbors, as well as its allies in Europe, agree to the move.
Before signing the deal, Netanyahu and Gantz agreed to bring the vote on West Bank annexation to a Knesset vote starting July.
Prior to the March 2 election the White House sent contradictory messages regarding the matter. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Israel could move forward with the annexation immediately, but Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said a joint Israeli-American team would have to discuss the matter first, which could take several months.
Israeli Human Rights NGO B'Tselem said that “Pompeo’s statement narrows the gap between what Israel does under the auspices of the United States and what both countries are saying.
“The de facto annexation and the apartheid reality will not wait for July 1, they have been here for a long time. At least now Washington and Jerusalem have stopped lying about their intentions and actions. The international community must stop stuttering and start acting against the existing reality without waiting for another single Israeli move,” the organization added.
Jewish organizations in the U.S. welcomed Monday the agreement between Gantz Netanyahu to form a government, but warned against annexing parts of the West Bank the deal could lead to.