Middle East

Uncertainty surrounds Israels West Bank plans after UAE deal

The United Arab Emirates announced Thursday that Israel had agreed to abandon plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in exchange for normalised relations. But later statements by Israel underscored that annexation remains "on the table", throwing the future of the territory into uncertainty.

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US President Donald Trump's original plan in January gave Israel the green light to annex parts of the West Bank, where Jewish settlements are considered illegal under international law.

The Palestinians rejected the plan outright as biased and untenable as did Israel's Arab neighbours.

For now, Thursday's deal appears to put annexation on ice. The joint statement released by US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan said they had agreed Israel would "suspend declaring sovereignty" over Palestinian West Bank areas.

The statement also announced "the full normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates".

Sheikh Mohamed underscored in a tweet that during a call with Trump and Netanyahu an agreement was reached "to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories".

During a call with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories. The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.

— محمد بن زايد (@MohamedBinZayed) August 13, 2020

But Netanyahu, who had hailed the deal as ushering in a "new era" for the Arab world and Israel, later made clear that he had only agreed to delay annexation and that the plans remained "on the table", adding that he would "never give up our rights to our land".

International reaction

The Palestinians strongly rejected the accord, calling it a "betrayal" of their cause. They announced they were withdrawing their ambassador from the Emirates and demanded an emergency Arab League meeting.

In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi welcomed the measure as a plan "to halt the Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands".

"I followed with interest and appreciation the joint statement between the United States, United Arab Emirates and Israel to halt the Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands and taking steps to bring peace in the Middle East," Sisi said on Twitter.

Sisi also called Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to congratulate him on taking a "historic" step towards peace.

France also welcomed the landmark deal between Israel and the UAE, albeit with some reservations, calling for the suspension of Israeli annexation plans to become "definitive".

"The decision taken within this framework by the Israeli authorities to suspend the annexation of Palestinians territories is a positive step, which must become a definitive measure," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement on Thursday.

"The new state of mind shown by these announcements must now allow the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians with a view to establishing two states within the framework of international law and agreed parameters, which is the only option to enable a just and lasting peace," Le Drian added.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres also said he hoped the deal could help move towards the realisation of a two-state solution for peace in the Middle East.

"The secretary-general welcomes this agreement, hoping it will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations that will realize a two state-solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements," a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.

Jordan said Thursday that the Israeli-Emirati normalisation deal's impact on peace efforts would depend on Israel's actions, including its stance on a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi, who neither welcomed nor rejected the agreement, said that "the impact of the deal on peace efforts is linked to the actions Israel will take".

He said the Jewish state must end its "illegal actions" and its "violations of Palestinian rights" while urging Israel to engage in "direct, serious and active peace negotiations on the basis of a two-state solution".

But Safadi added that Jordan backs "any real effort that contributes to achieving comprehensive and just peace that ends Israeli occupation and meets the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people".

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