Pompeo to Discuss Annexation, Iran during Lightning Israel Visit
Top US diplomat also scheduled to attend swearing-in of fifth Netanyahu government
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will make a one-day visit to Israel on May 13 for a meeting with right-wing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival-turned-coalition-partner, Benny Gantz.
Pompeo and his entourage will attend the new government’s swearing-in.
Prof. Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Media Line that the two countries were “close allies,” adding: “It’s expected [that] the two coordinate policies….”
Inbar said that with the formation of the new government, now was a logical time to come.
“I think the fact that they [Israel] have a government now makes it easier,” he stated. “He [Pompeo] has a clear address − prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister. All this was clouded in uncertainty before.”
Gantz is slated to serve as defense minister before rotating into the prime ministerial seat in 18 months. Gabi Ashkenazi, his Blue and White colleague, will be foreign minister.
Pompeo is expected to discuss several issues with Netanyahu, among them the coronavirus pandemic and Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
“Obviously, extending Israeli law to part of the West Bank is one major issue on the agenda,” Inbar said.
Pompeo touched on annexation during a press briefing on April 22: “That’s an Israeli decision. And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in a private setting.”
Dr. Ali Jarbawi, professor of political science and international studies at Birzeit University, north of Ramallah, criticized Washington’s position.
“It is very clear that the issue of annexing occupied Palestinian land is considered by the current American administration as if it were a bilateral issue between Israel and the US only, and not with other parties that rejected the Trump ‘deal of the century,” Jarbawi said.
The new Israeli government’s coalition agreement set July 1 as the earliest it could make any moves to annex parts of the West Bank. This would give it a short window before the US presidential election at the beginning of November.
According to Gantz’s stipulation, however, any moves must be coordinated with the US while also taking into consideration regional stability and peace agreements.
The timing of the Pompeo visit is “troubling,” according to Daoud Kuttab, a prominent, Amman-based Palestinian journalist, writer and analyst.
“It comes at a time when the first-ever Israeli government is committed in its coalition agreement to literally steal lands of another people under the guise of a green light from America,” he told The Media Line.
“The international community after World War II committed [to the principle] that it is forbidden to take land by war,” he continued, “and Israel, clearly with the approval of Washington, is again violating this most sacred global commitment.”
Pompeo, a staunch supporter of Israel, will not be making a stop in neighboring Jordan, and omitting Amman from the itinerary, Kuttab says, is a clear display of bias.
“Jordan views annexation as an existential threat and a threat to regional peace. By not visiting Jordan, Pompeo is confirming his bias to Israel and his commitment to radical Christian-Zionist ideology, which is in violation of the world order as we know it.”
He added that the snub was “troubling since almost every secretary of state has been careful to include Amman in their Middle East itinerary.”
Yossi Kuperwasser, a retired Israeli general and now an intelligence and security analyst, downplayed Jordan’s anger over Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley.
“I am sure that Israel, together with the US, will try to explain to the Jordanians that this is first of all… not an annexation,” he told The Media Line. “This is an extension of the sovereignty of Israel over these territories. Secondly, [they will explain] that it’s good for Jordan to have Israeli forces there because they can rely on them….”
Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former Palestinian official, told The Media Line that annexation would be “illegal and inconsistent with international laws,” insisting that the Trump Administration’s support of the plan was self-serving.
“This is a purely political move for Trump, as he is facing an uphill battle,” Zayyad said. “His dismal handling of the coronavirus… may cost him the presidency. He needs to increase his chances of winning.”
To do this, Abu Zayyad argues that the president will appeal to his base.
“Trump desperately needs the pro-Israel voters, his evangelical Christian community, to win,” he said.
Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee, has said he would oppose unilateral moves by Israel in keeping with decades of pre-Trump US policy.
The annexation plans have engendered strong opposition from nearly the entire international community, including the European Union and Arab states.
“It’s going to be met with criticism by the countries in the region and in Europe. It does not look to be received well by the Democratic Party in the US,” Kuperwasser said.
“At the same time,” he went on, “this is the best time [for annexation] because it goes along with the Trump peace plan. It has the support of the president of the United States and his inner administration.”
Another issue on the agenda during Pompeo’s visit to Israel will be Iran’s growing influence in the region.
Last week, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel would continue its operations in Syria and would not rest until Iranian forces left the country.
According to Kuperwasser, the US wants to see the Iranian presence there “diminished.” He added that Israel and its ally shared an interest in ensuring that Tehran’s influence in the region was eliminated.
“From the Israeli point of view, it is clear that whatever is necessary should be done to minimize the presence of Iran and its activity,” he said. “At the same time, I think that the US is very much involved in putting maximum pressure on Iran both economically and in its regional activities. Syria is part of this regional activity.”
Inbar agrees, saying the US and Israel are “on the same page” when it comes to the Iranian military presence on Syrian territory.
“The Americans are quite happy with what we are doing in Syria,” he said.
“They are coordinating with our steps there, particularly since the Iranians continue their provocations in the Gulf, as well in Iraq,” he continued. “There is a whole array of issues related to [this] that the Americans and Israelis can discuss at the highest level of government.”