US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Israel amid the coronavirus pandemic to discuss plans supported by the United States to annex much of the Palestinian territories.
The one-stop shop visit – Pompeo’s first in nearly two months – will last only a few hours, with a small American team enjoying exemptions from strict restrictions on Israeli coronaviruses that force all arrivals to isolate themselves for two weeks.
Pompeo got off the plane with a striped mask in the colors of the American flag. He will travel to Jerusalem to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the former opposition leader who will soon be join Netanyahu in a unity government.
Washington was shy about why such a visit was necessary, announcing the trip to a paragraph declaration this gave no indication of an urgent program. He said the men would discuss “American and Israeli efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as regional security concerns linked to Iran’s malicious influence”.
The American plan, preemptively rejected by Palestinian leaders who refuse to negotiate on its terms, gives Israel full military control over the Palestinians, much of their land and all of Jerusalem and the Israeli settlements. Washington has said that Israel can implement parts of the plan without the participation of the Palestinians.
“It is a fairly detailed, realistic and achievable concept and I wanted to share with them some of the work that we continue to do on it,” said Pompeo.
Daniel Shapiro, former US ambassador to Israelsaid the haste around Pompeo’s “high-speed mid-pandemic” trip was to coordinate the annexation, which he said Trump sees as an electoral boon if it can be withdrawn before the US elections in November .
“For Trump’s evangelical and right-wing Jewish base, the Israeli annexation – and the final rites it will administer to the two-dying state solution – is extremely popular,” said Shapiro. wrote Haaretz.
The visit takes place as potential obstacles develop, with reports that EU countries, including France, Ireland and Belgium, consider threatening punitive economic measures if Israel violates international law by unilaterally claiming sovereignty over the land it occupies.
EU foreign ministers meet on Friday, where the issue is expected to be discussed. Josep Borrell, the head of EU foreign policy, said in February that the measures to annex the Palestinian territory, “if implemented, could not go unchallenged.”
Washington may also not know if Netanyahu himself is committed to the plan. The longest-serving Israeli leader has been accused nationally by right-wing members of suspending the promise of annexation to win the election, but preferring to maintain the status quo of endless occupation rather than risking potential diplomatic fallout.
However, the unity government agreement that Netanyahu has signed with Gantz allows the Prime Minister to present a proposal for annexation to the cabinet for discussion after July 1. This can happen even with objections from Gantz, who also supports the occupation but is seen in Israel as more centrist.
In his interview, Pompeo said that annexation was ultimately the responsibility of the Israeli government. However, he added that he wanted to “understand how the new leadership, the new government that will soon think about it”.