Jun 5, 2020 - World

Scoop: German foreign minister to travel to Israel with warning on annexation

Heiko Maas. Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to travel to Israel next week to warn that there will be consequences if Israeli leaders move forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Israeli officials and European diplomats tell me.

Why it matters: Israeli and European officials agree that if Israel goes ahead with unilateral annexation, the EU will respond with sanctions.

Starting from July 1st — coincidentally, the deadline set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to begin the annexation process — Germany will assume the EU's rotating presidency.

  • Germany will also preside at the UN Security Council in July, and thus would play a key role in the European and international responses to annexation.

The backstory: The coalition agreement that allowed Netanyahu to form his new government says he can bring "the understandings with the Trump administration" on annexation up for a vote in his Cabinet or the Knesset as early as July 1 — but only with the full agreement of the White House and after consultation with Israel’s allies in the EU.  

  • Maas will arrive in Israel on Wednesday as the guest of the new Israeli foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi.
  • He is expected to also meet Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz.

Maas will deliver two messages, Israeli officials and European diplomats tell me.

  • Israel is extremely important for Germany and it wants to strengthen the alliance.
  • But, Germany is strongly against any steps toward unilateral annexation, and such moves could damage Israel’s relations with Germany and the EU.

Between the lines: The German government is concerned that this issue could force it to choose between its alliance with Israel and its respect for international law and Europe's longstanding positions and principles.

  • Maas is expected to ask his Israeli counterparts not to put Germany in such a tough spot and warn that if pushed, Germany will support international law.
  • Maas spoke about his concerns over annexation recently with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He has also discussed the issue with Jordan's foreign minister and the Palestinian prime minister.

What’s next: Several days after Maas returns from Israel, the foreign ministers of all EU member states will convene for a meeting that will include discussion of the annexation issue.

The bottom line: Germany's ultimate goal is to avoid an international standoff and find a way back to negotiations involving both the Israelis and Palestinians.

Go deeper: U.S. and Israel huddle on annexation a month out from deadline

Go deeper