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May 14, 2020

Pompeo visits Israel on eve of new govt amid West Bank violence


May 14, 2020

OCCUPIED-AL-QUDS: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel on Wednesday, a day before its new government was to be sworn in, to discuss plans to annex much of the occupied and violence-torn West Bank.

President Donald Trump’s top diplomat also voiced fresh condemnation of their common arch foe Iran while in Jerusalem, accusing the Islamic republic of promoting terrorism during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pompeo was headed back to Washington after talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival-turned ally Benny Gantz, who are set to form a unity government on Thursday, ending a year of political gridlock.

Pompeo’s trip coincided with an upsurge in violence in the West Bank.

Israeli troops shot dead a 15-year-old Palestinian near the flashpoint city of Hebron on Wednesday, a day after a Palestinian stone-thrower killed an Israeli soldier during an arrest operation near Jenin, the army’s first fatality of the year.

In talks with Netanyahu and Gantz, Pompeo addressed Trump’s controversial Middle East peace plan, which gives a green light from Washington for Israel to annex Jewish settlements and strategic areas of the West Bank.

For the Palestinians and much of the international community, such a move would sink any hope of a two-state solution to the conflict.

There are fears Jordan might back away from its historic 1994 peace deal with the Jewish state if Israel annexes the Jordan Valley, a strategically crucial border region that accounts for roughly 30 percent of the West Bank.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that "any Israeli decision to annex the settlements, the Jordan Valley and the north of the Dead Sea in occupied Palestine will be a disastrous step".

In a phone conversation with Spain’s foreign minister, Safadi warned that it would "kill chances for a just peace and push the region towards more conflict".

Netanyahu and Gantz are set to launch their government on Thursday, having faced off in three inconclusive elections in less than a year before agreeing to a three-year power-sharing administration.

Netanyahu, the right-winger in office since 2009, will serve as premier for 18 months with Gantz as his alternate, before the two are set to swap posts midway through the deal.

Their coalition agreement says the government can from July 1 begin considering to implement Trump’s plan.

The Palestinians have rejected Trump’s proposals and cut ties with his administration in 2017 over its pro-Israel stance.

Their chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Pompeo’s team had not reached out ahead of the visit.

"The Trump administration is collaborating with Israel in its annexation plan in what is both an attempt at burying the rights of the Palestinian people as well as a blatant attack on a rules-based international system," he said.

Israel has controlled the West Bank since seizing it in the Six-Day War of 1967.

Nearly three million Palestinians live in the territory alongside more than 400,000 Israelis residing in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.

Former US president Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, told AFP that he believes the "Trump administration very much wants this annexation to happen."

He said it wants to ensure its staunchly pro-Israel voters, including evangelical Christians and conservative Jews, are energised ahead of the November presidential election.