Europe under pressure to act against Israel’s annexation plans

No change in UK policy on settlements, British minister asserts

Palestinians women wave national flags as they protest a US peace plan proposal in the centre of the Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on January 30, 2020.  Questions surfaced today over whether Israel would immediately seek to annex parts of the West Bank, after US President Donald Trump's controversial peace plan, seen as overwhelmingly supportive of Israeli goals, called for extending Israeli sovereignty to the area. The plan, which has been firmly rejected by the Palestinians, gives the Jewish state a US green light to annex key parts of the occupied West Bank, including in the strategic Jordan Valley. 

European nations must act to save a viable two-state solution for Palestine and Israel after the US announced its plan to restart the Middle East peace process, an expert has warned.

Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow with the Mena programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The National Europe should show it would uphold international principles for Palestinians.

Mr Lovatt said the US plan, which was skewed in Israel’s favour, was a rejection of the two-state solution and international legal principles that have formed the cornerstone of efforts to achieve peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

“It's not only for Europe to show that it can live up to its values, its principles and its policies but also that the international rules based order can actually deliver for Palestinians,” he said.

“It is not for Palestinians to prove that this works. It is for third states and particularly the EU, particularly because of its DNA, to prove that this system can work,” Mr Lovatt added.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump unveiled his so-called “plan of the century” that proposes the creation of a Palestinian state while imposing strict conditions on it.

It grants control of long-contested West Bank settlements to Israel and proposes a timeline for the creation of a Palestinian capital in the Abu Dis district of East Jerusalem.

Emboldened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would look into the application of sovereignty to the settlements on Sunday.

The response from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt has been to say that Mr Trump’s deal offers an opportunity to reinvigorate stalled peace talks in the region.

Talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators ran aground in 2014 after years of setbacks.

But Palestinian leaders have roundly rejected the deal and analysts said the plans would kill the path to the two-state solution Mr Trump purportedly supports.

“Despite its appropriation of the two-state label, the US is not offering Israelis and Palestinians a viable and peaceful future in their own states," Mr Lovatt said.

"Instead, its proposal would cement a one-state reality of open-ended occupation and unequal rights for Palestinians.

“If European governments are serious about avoiding this reality, they must urgently take decisive steps towards a viable two-state solution in line with internationally agreed parameters as the best means of ensuring equal rights for both peoples.

"This means rejecting Trump’s plan."

Europe’s reaction to the plan has been mixed and lukewarm, with many nations saying they will need to study the proposals.

The EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, said that Europe would remain committed to “a negotiated and viable two-state solution that takes into account the legitimate aspirations of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, respecting all relevant UN resolutions and internationally agreed parameters”.

But there is daylight between European nations on the Middle East Peace process.

Jurgen Hardt, a foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has said he was concerned that “some of the demands he mentioned towards Palestinians concerning the territories will not open the door for negotiations".

At the same time UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to speak in more enthusiastic terms than Mr Trump's about the possible Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.

"No peace plan is perfect but this has the merit of a two-state solution," Mr Johnson said.

"It is a two-state solution. It would ensure that Jerusalem is both the capital of Israel and of the Palestinian people."

But in Britain the annexation of territory in the West Bank, northern Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley remains a sticking point.

During responses to an urgent question in Parliament on the Middle East peace plan on Thursday, MP David Jones asked whether Britain would “acquiesce on the illegal annexation of land already held”.

Middle East Minister Andrew Murrison responded by saying Britain’s position on settlements had not changed.

“We’ve made our position clear to the Americans and others consistently and our position has not changed,” Mr Murrison said.

France has also reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution while it mulls over the details of the plan.

"France welcomes President Trump's efforts and will study closely the peace programme he has presented," the French Foreign Ministry said.