Israel said Friday that its West Bank annexation plan remains “on the table” after UAE announced Thursday Tel Aviv had agreed to abandon those plans in exchange for normalized relations with the Gulf state.
The contradictory statements have added to the uncertainty surrounding the annexation issue, while the new UAE-Israel deal will likely have far-reaching geopolitical implications.
US President Donald Trump 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 neighbors, including the United Arab Emirates.
For now, Thursday’s deal appears to put annexation on ice.
The joint statement released by President 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 normalization 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”.
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”.
World Reaction to UAE-Israel Deal
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 realization of a two-state solution for peace in the Middle East.
A spokesman for Guterres said in a statement:
“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.”
Jordan said Thursday that the Israeli-Emirati normalization 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”.
Iran Only Country to Stand Clearly with Palestinians
Iran was unequivocal in calling the deal “dangerous and illegitimate”, according to state news agency IRNA, citing a statement from Iran’s foreign ministry on Friday.
“The shameful measure of Abu Dhabi to reach an agreement with the fake Zionist regime (Israel) is a dangerous move and the UAE and other states that backed it will be responsible for its consequences,” the statement added.
“This is stabbing the Palestinians in the back and will strengthen regional unity against the Zionist regime,” the foreign ministry said.
US Alone in Backing Annexation
Trump tapped his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, a staunch supporter of Israel, to forge a Middle East peace plan. It was unveiled in Washington on January 28 alongside Netanyahu, who hailed it as a “realistic path to a durable peace”.
It gave the Jewish state Washington’s green light to annex areas including the Jordan Valley, a strategic strip along the Jordanian border, as well as some 130 Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Under the plan Jerusalem was to be Israel’s “undivided” capital, and economic aid would flow to the Palestinians, who would get their own state.
Israel seized control of the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, in the Six-Day War of 1967 and has occupied it ever since. More than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements constructed in the territory, which Palestinians regard as the mainstay of their future state.
The day after Trump’s announcement, protests flared in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli security forces in the West Bank.
Apart from the US, no country has publicly backed the annexation plans.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has said annexation “means ending the two-state solution and the dismantling of the rights of the people of Palestine”.
In a joint statement after the January plan was announced, France, Belgium, Germany and Estonia reaffirmed that they “will not recognize any changes to the 1967 borders, unless agreed by Israelis and Palestinians”.
The UN’s special Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, said at the time that annexation would “constitute a serious violation of international law [and] deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution”.