France threatens Israel ties over settlement annexation

An Israeli diplomatic source said that more EU member states opposed Borrell’s remark than came out against any previous EU statement on Israel.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and France's President Emmanuel Macron meet ahead of the 5th World Holocaust Forum, January 22, 2020.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and France's President Emmanuel Macron meet ahead of the 5th World Holocaust Forum, January 22, 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
France threatened to change the nature of its ties with Israel, should the nascent government annex parts of the West Bank, in Ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Rivière’s remarks to the Security Council on Thursday.
De Rivière said that annexation “would constitute a blatant violation of international law, which strictly prohibits the acquisition by force of occupied territories.
“Such steps if implemented would not pass unchallenged and shall not be overlooked in our relationship with Israel,” he added.
The remarks at the UN came hours after High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell released a statement against annexation without the support of EU member states.
“The EU’s position on the status of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 remains unchanged,” the statement reads. “The EU does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied West Bank. The EU reiterates that any annexation would constitute a serious violation of international law.”
Borrell began the statement by saying the EU “takes note” of the coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, which allows Netanyahu to put forward a vote on settlement annexation by July 1 at the earliest. Borrell also said that the EU is willing to continue cooperation with Israel on fighting coronavirus.
Eight of the 27 EU countries opposed the statement, which an Israeli diplomatic source said that was more than were against any previous EU statement on Israel.
Borrell made similar statements soon after US President Donald Trump announced his peace plan, which includes Israel applying sovereignty to 30% of the West Bank, but at the time said that "steps towards annexation, if implemented, could not pass unchallenged."
The statement was from Borrell and not member states because Hungary, Austria and several other states took issue with the implied threat in the statement. EU states make foreign policy decisions unanimously.
This time, Borrell once again released his own statement, without the support of EU member states. Borrell said that the EU will “continue to closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and will act accordingly.”
During discussions with member states’ foreign ministers, Borrell advocated for sanctions on Israel if it moves forward with annexation, KAN reported. The EU is particularly sensitive to the matter of annexation, having sanctioned Russia for annexing Crimea and because part of member state Cyprus is occupied by Turkey.
A source in one of the EU states opposing the statement said they were surprised by its release and had been expecting further debate. Unlike Borrell’s last statement, the source said, in this case, most of the opponents had concerns about timing. Israel’s government has not yet been authorized by the Knesset and they did not want to start off their relationship with Gantz, who, according to the coalition agreement will become prime minister in a year and a half, on such a negative footing.
An EU official said there was a question of whether to include Jerusalem, which was not mentioned in the final statement, and say more about bilateral cooperation with Israel.
The Foreign Ministry said it's "unfortunate that Josep Borrell...chose to welcome the new government of a central partner of the EU in this way and chose to only see the relations between Israel and the EU through the prism of a plague and ‘the status of the territories.’
"In light of the fact that this message did not receive the support of member states, we wonder – and not for the first time – what policies the honorable gentleman chose to represent," the Foreign Ministry added.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz thanked EU member states that are friendly to Israel for opposing Borrell's message, saying that they "see the value of relations with Israel, and we will continue to promote relations between Israel and Europe with them."
Still, EU member states in the UN Security Council made their own statements opposing annexation in Thursday’s meeting.
Germany's ambassador told the UN Security Council that it "strongly advises" against annexation, which would have negative repercussions, be destabilizing and threaten the two-state solution.
Estonia and Belgium said annexation was against international law.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov also said settlement annexation violates international law, in his remarks to the UN Security Council on Thursday.
The “dangerous prospect of annexation” would also "deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations and threaten efforts to advance regional peace," Mladenov warned.
He called for Israel and the Palestinians to “take steps towards peace” and “reject unilateral moves that only create a wedge between people.”
Mladenov pointed to cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians on combating the spread of coronavirus and expressed hope that “if there’s political will, it can translate into tangible progress towards resolving the conflict.”
Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said that Israeli leaders “openly brag of their plans to commit this crime” of annexation.
“Shockingly, annexation became the centerpiece of recent negotiations to form an Israeli government,” he said. “They determined what land they would steal and illegally annex.”
The coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White states that annexation can be brought to a vote in the cabinet or Knesset on July 1 at the earliest, “after discussion between the prime minister and alternate prime minister” and American agreement.
“In relation to President Trump's declaration,” the coalition agreement reads, “the prime minister and alternate prime minister will act with the US's full agreement including mapping and international dialogue on the subject, while aiming to protect Israel's security and strategic interests, including the need to preserve regional stability, peace agreements and working towards future peace agreements.”
US President Donald Trump’s peace plan would allow Israel to annex 30% of the West Bank, including all settlements and the entire Jordan Valley, and would provide the Palestinians with a massive economic aid package and support their establishing a demilitarized state if they meet certain conditions, including stopping incitement and payments to terrorists, as well as instituting civil rights.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis ultimately make those decisions, so that’s an Israeli decision. We will work closely with them to share with them our views on this in a private setting.”