Pompeo visits Israel for talks on controversial US peace plan

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Israel Wednesday for talks on regional security and the country’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Pompeo was scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and new Defense Minister Benny Gantz, one day before the swearing in of a unity government agreed between the two men.

Talks are also expected to focus on Iran’s sworn enemy after Israel has launched strikes against Iranian bases in neighboring Syria in recent weeks, and on the Jewish state’s trade relations with China.

Pompeo was wearing a red, white and blue protective mask when he landed at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on his first trip abroad in almost two months in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In what the US Embassy in Jerusalem called “a warning,” Pompeo will not meet with Ambassador David Friedman, who, according to an embassy spokesperson, has “mild track symptoms”. respiratory tract “although it was tested negative for the new coronavirus.

Violent clashes in the West Bank

The visit came after violence broke out in the occupied West Bank. Israeli forces killed a Palestinian boy on Wednesday in clashes in the West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.

The ministry said 15-year-old Zaid Qaysia was “shot in the head by Israeli soldiers in Al-Fawar camp” near Hebron in the southern West Bank, and four other Palestinians were injured in clashes.

The IDF said it was checking the information.

An Israeli soldier was killed Tuesday morning in an arrest raid in the West Bank when a rock thrown on a roof hit him in the head, the soldiers said.

The military said the 21-year-old staff sergeant. Amit Ben-Yigal was regularly performing “operational activities” near the West Bank city of Jenin when a large rock was thrown from a roof and hit him on the head. The attacker was looking.

Green light from the United States to annex land

Netanyahu and Gantz clashed in three inconclusive elections in less than a year before agreeing to a three-year power-sharing administration.

Netanyahu, right wing winger in power since 2009, will serve as Prime Minister for 18 months with Gantz, a former army chief, as his deputy, after the latter resigned from office on Tuesday as President of Parliament his new position. The two will exchange tickets halfway through the deal.

Their coalition agreement indicates that the Israeli government can, as of July 1, begin to consider implementing the West Bank annexations detailed in President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

Unveiled in January, the controversial plan gives Washington the green light to Israel to annex the Jewish settlements and other strategic territories in the West Bank.

The Palestinians rejected Trump’s plan and cut ties with the Trump administration in 2017 over his pro-Israel stance.

Their chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that the Pompeo team had not communicated before the visit.

“The Trump administration is collaborating with Israel in its plan for annexation in what is both an attempt to bury the rights of the Palestinian people and a blatant attack on a rules-based international system,” he said. -he declares.

Israel has controlled the West Bank since its capture in the 1967 Six Day War.

Nearly three million Palestinians live there alongside more than 400,000 Israelis residing in settlements considered illegal by international law.

For the Palestinians and much of the international community, the Israeli annexations would leave hope for a two-state solution to the conflict.

In an interview before visiting the Israel Hayom newspaper, Pompeo said if and how to proceed with the annexation was “a decision that Israel will make”.

“I want to understand what the new government is thinking about it,” Pompeo reportedly said, noting that Trump’s initiative had been exposed several months before the Netanyahu-Gantz deal.

The American plan recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, defying Palestinian aspirations for the eastern part of the city to become their future capital.

Regional concerns

Former US President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, told AFP that he believed Pompeo to be “dishonest” by saying that annexation decisions would be left to Israel.

“I think the Trump administration is anxious for this annexation to take place,” said Shapiro, visiting researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

“He’s probably less concerned with specific borders, but he wants to have a realization in the Israeli annexation that he can brag to President Trump’s evangelical supporters (and) right-wing Jewish supporters to excite and energize them,” before the American elections. in November, said Shapiro.

Netanyahu may be tempted to act quickly to help Trump in this vote and to ensure that the annexation is a done deal before a possible adverse change to the head of the White House, Shapiro noted.

But doing so would create significant risks internationally and could cause deep division in the Netanyahu coalition, the former ambassador added.

Netanyahu’s previous coalition had right-wing extremists pro-annexing key positions, including outgoing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.

Gantz praised the Trump plan but cautioned against measures that threaten regional stability.

Experts have said that Jordan could withdraw from its historic peace agreement in 1994 with the Jewish state if Israel annexed the Jordan Valley, a strategically crucial border region that accounts for about 30% of the West Bank.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)