WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday it was up to Israel whether to annex parts of the West Bank and said that Washington would offer its views privately to Israel’s new government, drawing a warning from Palestinians who vowed not to “stand handcuffed” if Israel formally took their land.
“As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions,” Pompeo told reporters. “That’s an Israeli decision. And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in (a) private setting.”
Pompeo also said he was “happy” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist rival Benny Gantz signed a deal on Monday to form a national emergency government, saying he did not think a fourth Israeli election was in Israel’s interest.
The coalition agreement says that while the new government will strive for peace and regional stability, plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank – land the Palestinians seek for a state – could advance.
The move would mean a de-facto annexation of territory that Israel seized in a 1967 war and that is presently under Israeli military control. It would have to be greenlighted by the United States, after which Netanyahu would be permitted to advance the plans from July 1, the agreement says.
Pompeo’s comment drew condemnation from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said his administration would view agreements with Israel and the United States as “completely canceled” if Israel annexes land in the West Bank.
“We have informed the relevant international parties, including the American and the Israeli governments, that we will not stand hand-cuffed if Israel announces the annexation of any part of our land,” Abbas said on Palestine TV.
According to Abbas’ office, the televised remarks were recorded shortly before Pompeo made his statement. However, in the wake of that statement, Abbas reviewed his own recorded remarks and approved them for broadcast, Abbas’ office said.
The Palestinians and many countries regard settlements as illegal under the Geneva Conventions that bar settling on land captured in war. Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.
A U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace proposal unveiled in January was embraced by Israel and rejected by the Palestinians, partly because it awards Israel most of what it has sought during decades of conflict, including nearly all the occupied land on which it has built settlements.
(Reporting By Humeyra Pamuk, David Brunnstrom and Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chris Reese and Alistair Bell)