U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s lightning visit to Israel is surprising. Other than the honor Pompeo accords Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of the establishment of the new government, it was reported that he intends to discuss with the prime minister the future of the campaign against Iran, cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus and the anticipated annexation in the West Bank. The two first subjects do not require a special visit. Coordination with the United States on Iran is ongoing and regular, as is cooperation on fighting the coronavirus. However, the annexation of the Jordan Valley and parts of the West Bank require precise clarifications that leave no room for interpretation.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has made clear that the U.S. administration can prepare for annexation within weeks, but he also conditioned the move on the need for negotiations with the Palestinians according to President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
For Israel and Palestine, annexation isn't the end of the world. Listen to Gideon Levy
Pompeo himself said at a press conference last month: “The Israelis will ultimately make those decisions,” while Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, explained that what had been agreed on between the United States and Israel was the establishment of a joint committee to discuss an organized road map. These statements are far from clarifying whether the United States encourages or objects to unilateral annexation.
The common assumption is that the U.S. administration will support any decision the Israeli prime minister makes, whether it is in the framework of a peace plan or not. This is not only because of Trump’s commitment to Netanyahu, but because he wants the support of the American right, particularly the evangelicals, ahead of the November presidential election.
Trump’s and Pompeo’s considerations do not obligate either the Israeli public or Kahol Lavan, which joined the government on the pretext that it would serve as a sane force of restraint on the insanity unleashed by Netanyahu and his partners on the right. The huge damage anticipated from unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank is already visible, with the statement by European Union countries of their intention to discuss sanctions on Israel.
But a harsh international response or a deep and irreconcilable rift with Jordan are only part of the poisonous fruit that annexation will bear. More important is the crushing of any chance of future diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians based on two states for two peoples, even when the prime minister is replaced, and the creation of an impassible obstacle facing any future government.
Netanyahu cannot be expected to reverse his rush toward the illegal expansion of Israel’s borders, but his partner Gantz should present an unequivocal stand and make clear to Pompeo that annexation is an existential danger to Israel.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.