Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (right) welcomes German counterpart Heiko Maas with an elbow bump Wednesday before their meeting in Jerusalem. (AP/Oded Balilty)
Germany's foreign minister on Wednesday warned Israel that its plan to begin annexing parts of the West Bank would violate international law, but he offered no details on how Germany or Europe would respond.
The visit to Jerusalem — Heiko Maas’ first trip outside of Europe since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic — came just weeks before Israel intends to extend its sovereignty over Jewish West Bank settlements, in line with President Donald Trump’s controversial Mideast plan.
The annexation plan has come under harsh criticism from some of Israel’s closest allies, including Germany, who say that unilaterally redrawing the Mideast map would destroy any lingering hopes for establishing a Palestinian state. The Palestinians seek all of the occupied West Bank, captured by Israel in 1967, as part of a future independent state.
Speaking at a news conference, Maas said Germany and the European Union pointed out that Europe considers annexation incompatible with international law. But he said the Europeans were still seeking a dialogue with Israel to learn more about its plans and said there were no immediate threats to punish Israel.
“I didn’t set up any price tags," he said. “We still believe the negotiated two-state solution is the right way, that annexation will not make this solution more probable.”
Later, during a stop in neighboring Jordan, he said he and his Jordanian counterpart agreed “we now need to prevent annexation and to make sure to revive negotiations.”
“I made clear that the German government and the colleagues in the EU are very worried that annexation can lead to the two-state solution no longer being viable and that we are on the wrong path,” Maas said. “It’s the time of diplomacy and dialogue.”
In Jordan, Maas met with his Jordanian counterpart and held a conference call with Palestinian leaders. Israel blocked him from traveling to the West Bank, citing coronavirus restrictions even while allowing Palestinian laborers to cross into and out of Israel.
Germany, already a key European power broker, will be taking over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union and assuming the presidency of the U.N. Security Council on July 1, the same day Israel says it may begin unfurling its plan.
Several Israel allies have opposed the plan. Canada, which has close relations with Israel, has also voiced its opposition to annexation plans. Canada's diplomatic office in Ramallah wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that it was “deeply concerned” and that such a move “would be damaging to peace, and we oppose it.”
The European Union also has made clear that it is opposed to annexation and considers it illegal under international law. For now, diplomats are trying to engage Israeli officials and convey the message that unilateral annexation would have negative repercussions on relations. They have not indicated how the EU might respond.