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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Pompeo in Israel for meetings on annexation, the virus, Iran and China

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JERUSALEM – Israel is preparing to annex territory to the occupied West Bank and a wave of clashes has claimed the lives of an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian teenager, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Jerusalem Wednesday, promising to advance the Trump administration’s proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There is still work to be done and we need to move forward,” Pompeo said of the administration’s “vision for peace” at the start of a seven-hour visit that took place in a flash. This is the first official trip to Israel of diplomats from a country since the coronavirus pandemic has missed face-to-face meetings by videoconference.

Mr. Pompeo, who got off his jet wearing a red, white and blue mask, said his meetings with Israeli leaders would also focus on efforts to fight the coronavirus and stop the Iranian nuclear project and contain its expansionary measures in the Middle East.

But in brief remarks alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pompeo, no longer wearing his mask, also revealed that China, a rare hot spot between the United States and Israel, was also very much on the agenda. .

“You are an excellent partner,” said Pompeo to Netanyahu. “You share information, unlike some other countries that try to hide and hide information. We will also talk about this country. “

Pompeo said last week that China “could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people around the world” and “spared the global descent into global economic unrest”. He added, “China still refuses to share the information we need to keep people safe.”

But Pompeo’s pointed reference to China in the presence of Netanyahu was not only a surprising attempt to lure Israel into a venomous dispute on the American side; it was also a thinly veiled allusion to a growing source of friction between Israel and the United States.

Israel has upset Washington by allowing Chinese companies to make major infrastructure investments in recent years, including in sensitive locations.

In Haifa, a company majority owned by the Chinese government has entered into a 25-year lease to manage the commercial seaport of Israel from 2021; it’s a frequent stopover for the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet. And in another strategic location near the Israeli air base of Palmachim, a company based in Hong Kong, Hutchison Water International, is a finalist for the construction of a desalination plant which, according to Israel, will be the largest in the world. The contract winner is expected to be announced on May 24.

Trump administration officials have called for Israel to filter and monitor these investments from China more closely, along with Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, warning during a visit to Israel last year that intelligence sharing between the two allies could otherwise be compromised or compromised.

On Wednesday, alongside Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Netanyahu seemed to push back slowly but firmly, reminding him of the origin of most of the information shared by the two allies.

“The most important thing is actually to generate the information and then share it,” said Netanyahu, interrupting Pompeo, an undeniable reference to the record of Israeli intelligence services in terms of developing information useful to states -United.

In particular, Mr. Pompeo’s short meeting schedule included a session with the director of Mossad, Yossi Cohen.

Pompeo was also scheduled to meet Benny Gantz, the former army chief who fought Netanyahu for a draw in three elections in the past year and a half before agreeing to join him in government emergency unit. When they are sworn in on Thursday – an event that has been postponed for a day because of Mr. Pompeo’s visit – Mr. Gantz must become Minister of Defense. Pompeo will also meet Gabi Ashkenazi, another former army chief and ally of Gantz who is to become foreign minister of the new government.

However, Mr. Netanyahu’s wish to annex the West Bank territory on which the Palestinians have long counted for a future state weighed most on Mr. Pompeo’s visit.

Opponents of the annexation warned that it would kill the chances of a two-state solution to the protracted conflict and unleash violence that could quickly lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank under the Oslo Accords.

An Israeli soldier was killed on Tuesday when a large rock from a house near the northern West Bank town of Jenin hit him in the head. As the hunt for his killer (s) continues, a Palestinian teenager, Zaid Qaisiyya, was shot in the head and killed early Wednesday in clashes with Israeli security forces in the Fawar refugee camp. , near the city of Hebron, in the southern West Bank. Four others were injured by live ammunition, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported. The boy’s funeral drew a crowd of thousands.

The State Department has sought in recent weeks to downplay the role of the Trump administration in shaping Israel’s annexation plans. “It is an Israeli decision,” said Pompeo said in april.

But a mapping committee of US and Israeli officials – not counting Palestinian leaders – is drawing the boundaries of the roughly 30 percent of the West Bank territory that should be annexed.

Ambassador David M. Friedman, the US envoy to Jerusalem, sits on the panel, but skipped Wednesday’s meeting with Pompeo after experiencing “mild upper respiratory symptoms”, although it was negative for Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, said the Embassy of the United States.

Supporters of a two-state solution have been busy both anticipating and trying to ensure a painful backlash for Israel if it goes ahead with annexation. To do so unilaterally would not only jeopardize Israel’s security pacts with Egypt and Jordan; it could also alienate some of Israel’s trading partners and potentially lead to European sanctions, warn opponents.

The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council is expected to discuss Israel’s plans to declare sovereignty over the West Bank and how Europe might respond on Friday. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell argued last month that annexing the Palestinian territories would be “serious violationInternational law and said European diplomats were ready to “act on it”.

Yet only the United States can deter Israel, said Israela Oron, a retired Israeli general and supporter of the two-state solution. But she said it was unlikely, given how much President Trump depends on votes in November from American evangelicals and right-wing Jewish voters, who support Israel’s takeover of the West Bank on religious grounds.

“The question is” How is it that annexation is so urgent in the midst of the corona pandemic and the economic crisis? “” Said Ms. Oron during an online session with journalists held on Tuesday by the Leftist Israeli Political Forum. “The simple answer is the next election in the United States”

Even US lawmakers who oppose the annexation have indicated that there is little they can do to end it. “Many of us urge the Israeli government not to do – if you do that, we consider it almost fatal to the prospects for peace,” Democrat of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine said on Tuesday while Pompeo was fly to Israel.

Kaine dodged questions about whether a Democratic administration could cancel an Israeli annexation if Trump left office in January. But he suggested that at least part of US aid to Israel could be reduced.

“In the end, Congress cannot be completely the protector of someone who, frankly, does not want to protect themselves,” said Mr. Kaine. He added: “I just don’t know that this idea of” We will protect you, even from your own measures that have made you less safe. “I don’t think this guarantee always lasts.”

David M. Halbfinger reported from Jerusalem and Lara Jakes from Washington. Adam Rasgon contributed to Tel Aviv reports.

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