The US State Department confirmed on Friday that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, May 13 as part of his first foreign visit in more than a month due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although the issue of Israel’s potential annexation of the West Bank was not mentioned in the statement, it is clear that this will be one of the central issues that will be discussed next week.
The continuing COVID-19 pandemic and how to deal with it is also expected to be one of the subjects that Pompeo will mention to Netanyahu. The Secretary of State will also meet Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz, as the Israeli Prime Minister’s former rival is expected to finalize the formation of a joint unity government next week.
Trump May Recognize Israeli Annexation of the West Bank
US President Donald Trump is keen for both Gantz and Netanyahu to accept his Middle East peace plan, which was presented in January. If the meeting goes according to plan, the Trump administration is likely to recognize Israeli annexation of all the West Bank settlements within weeks, which is what David Friedman, Trump’s pro-Netanyahu ambassador to Israel, told Israel Hayom newspaper during a recent interview.
Trump’s Middle East peace plan is one of the riskiest foreign policy decisions his administration has embarked on so far. The only nation that has supported it is the UK, with both British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab recognizing the plan as a basis for peace in the Middle East.
Trump Has Pitted Himself Against Turkey and the EU
The EU has warned in the past that ‘there will be consequences’ if Trump’s plan approves of any form of annexation. The Guardian reported that UN Secretary General António Guterres said that his organization will only support a two-state solution.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan outright rejected the plan. He claimed that it failed to recognize Palestinians’ rights and that it legitimized Israeli occupation.
However, Politico‘s Nahal Toosi argues that whilst the plan is heavily biased toward Israel, it does not rule out some form of Palestinian state in the future.
The Peace Plan is Tough on the Palestinians
It no longer matters whether a Democrat or a Republican is occupying the White House. This is because Trump’s plan has shifted the political consensus in the Middle East toward ensuring that Palestine meets a certain criteria before it can become a sovereign state.
For example, the Gaza Strip could be part of a future Palestinian state, even though it remains under the control of Hamas for now. The White House has said the Palestinians can assume more security over time.
Trump is also promising the Palestinians billions of dollars in economic assistance and that he will support a four-year freeze on future settlements. It will also be difficult for future presidents to reverse Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Furthermore, the Israelis hinted in January that they will implement parts of the US President’s plan without his assent.
The Plan Lays the Foundations for Peace
Yet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas continues to oppose the plan and other nations, such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, should be more heavily involved in this initiative if it has any chance of succeeding.
UAE Ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, said on Twitter that the plan “offers an important starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework.”
Pompeo’s meeting on May 13 is just the starting point for peace in the Middle East. It is likely that Israel’s two leading politicians will support the Secretary of State’s position. Once again, Trump has pitted himself against most of the West with his plan and alienated other nations like Turkey. But if it works in the long-term, he would have laid the foundations for peace, which his predecessors failed to do. This is why the stakes are so high for the Secretary of State’s upcoming visit.