Germany voices 'serious concerns' over Israeli annexation plan

Germany and its European partners have "serious concerns" over Israel's plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Jerusalem Wednesday. 

As the first high-level European visitor to Israel since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Maas brought a message of disquiet to Israel which he later reiterated in neighboring Jordan. 

Speaking in Jerusalem, Maas expressed "our honest and serious concerns... about the possible consequences of such a step."

Israel has signaled it intends to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, as proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump, with initial steps slated to begin from July 1, the same day Germany takes the rotating EU presidency. 

"Together with the European Union, we believe that annexation would not be compatible with international law," Maas sait at a joint press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, calling instead for the resumption of talks towards a two-state solution. 

A mural painting of U.S. President Donald Trump on Israel's controversial separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. /AFP

A mural painting of U.S. President Donald Trump on Israel's controversial separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. /AFP

The bloc has yet to agree on how to react if Israel presses ahead with annexation or whether to impose sanctions on Israel. 

"I don't think much of the politics of issuing threats at a stage when no decision has been taken yet [by Israel]," Maas said. 

Ashkenazi called Trump's initiative "an important milestone" and a "significant opportunity."

"The plan will be pursued responsibly, in full coordination with the United States" while maintaining Israel's existing and future "peace agreements... and strategic interests," he said.

International pressure 

Following talks with Ashkenazi, Germany's top diplomat met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who forged a new unity government last month. 

Israeli annexation forms part of the U.S. peace plan Trump unveiled in January, which paves the way for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state. 

A statement from Netanyahu's office cited him telling his German guest that "any realistic plan would have to recognize the reality of Israeli settlements, and not feed the illusion of uprooting people from their homes." 

While Netanyahu's annexation plan has faced opposition from both home and abroad as thousands of Palestinians and Israelis protested in Israel on Sunday, calling the annexation decision a "war crime" and a "crime against democracy."


Trump's proposals exclude core Palestinian demands such as a capital in east Jerusalem and have been rejected by the Palestinian Authority. 

Palestinians have sent a counter-proposal envisaging a "sovereign Palestinian state, independent and demilitarised" to the Quartet, made up of the UN, U.S., EU and Russia, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Tuesday. 

"We want Israel to feel international pressure," Shtayyeh said. 

"We explained our total opposition to annexation because it is a serious threat to the establishment of the Palestinian state, a clear violation of the international law and also a threat to the regional security," he added. 

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Maas then traveled on to Amman, where he held a video conference with Shtayyeh and met his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi. 

Last month, Jordan's King Abdullah II told German magazine Der Spiegel that Israeli annexation risked sparking a "conflict" with his country. 

Maas said that "as a direct neighbor, Jordan is more directly affected than any other country by any developments" in the coming weeks pertaining to Israel and the Palestinian territories. 

He warned that "unilateral steps by either side will not bring us any closer" to a negotiated two-state solution, would impact regional stability and bear "great, great potential for escalation."

Safadi warned it was "imperative... to stop annexation because ultimately it is a path to institutionalise apartheid of Palestine and that is not a recipe for peace."

Speaking in Arabic, he added that annexation would "not be without a response from Jordan."

(Cover: Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (R) greets his German counterpart Heiko Maas with an "elbow bump" in Jerusalem. /AFP)

(With input from agencies)