JERUSALEM (AFP) — German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas traveled to Jerusalem on Wednesday to voice European “concern” over Israel’s annexation plans for the occupied West Bank.
Maas, the first high-level European visitor to visit Israel since the coronavirus pandemic hit, touched elbows with his Israeli counterpart on arrival, both wearing face masks.
The focal point of talks will be Israel’s proposed annexation of West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, with initial steps slated to begin July 1, the same day Germany takes the rotating EU presidency.
The European Union opposes the move, although it remains divided on how to react, with Maas’s visit seen as an opportunity for Israel to try to tone down the bloc’s response.
The German foreign ministry said on its website that “in the Middle East conflict, Germany and its European Union partners are committed to the resumption of negotiations and a two-state solution. In Israel, Foreign Minister Maas will also express European concern about the possible consequences of annexation, as announced by the Israeli government.”
Germany’s top diplomat held talks with Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi before meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Israeli annexation forms part of a U.S. peace plan unveiled in January, which allegedly paves the way for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.
But it excludes core Palestinian demands such as a capital in east Jerusalem and has been rejected by the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinians have sent a counterproposal for the creation of a “sovereign Palestinian state, independent and demilitarized” to the Quartet, made up of the United Nations, United States, the European Union and Russia, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Tuesday.
“We want Israel to feel international pressure,” Shtayyeh said.
Maas then will travel on to Jordan, where he will hold a video conference with Shtayyeh and meet with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned in May that Israeli annexation risked sparking a “conflict” with his country, speaking to German magazine Der Spiegel.
While Berlin shares Amman’s opposition to annexation, the EU has yet to outline retaliatory measures, if any. Sanctions would need the approval of all 27 member states.
Europe holds significant financial clout in Israel as the country’s top business partner, with trade totaling 30 billion euros ($34 billion) last year, according to EU figures.
Some European countries could formally recognize a Palestinian state, but according to an Israeli official, Germany would not be one of them.
“Germany even with annexation would not recognize a Palestinian state and is not going to support sanctions against Israel,” he told AFP.
Looking beyond the West Bank, other matters on Maas’s Jerusalem agenda include Israeli foe Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
Berlin was one of the European parties to a landmark 2015 accord with Iran to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
But President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal and reimpose crippling economic penalties — a move praised by Israel — has led Tehran to suspend its compliance with some of the curbs. Under pressure from Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to negotiate a new deal, Iran responded: “We had a deal.”
Germany won praise from Israel in April for announcing a ban on all Hezbollah activities after previously tolerating the militant group’s political wing.
Israel occupied a swath of southern Lebanon from 1978 to 2000 and fought a war with Hezbollah in 2006.
© Agence France-Presse