US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slated to visit Israel Wednesday, the first visit to Israel by a ranking foreign official in months.
Coming just one day ahead of the swearing-in of the Thirty-Fifth Government of Israel, Pompeo’s visit has aroused much speculation regarding its purpose, fueling rumors the Trump administration is looking to coax Israel to delay implementation of its long-delayed plan to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria.
In an interview with Israel Hayom published Tuesday morning, Pompeo said the visit would not be focused exclusively on Israel’s pending sovereignty plan – first proposed ahead of the September elections – but would also deal with other issues including the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing tensions with Iran.
“There are a number of issues that I’m interested in discussing with the Prime Minister and General Gantz,” Pompeo said in the interview. “The threats from the Iranians, how to continue to work together to deter them and prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And I will update [Netanyahu and Gantz] on the progress we’ve been making regarding President Trump’s vision for peace.”
“There are, of course, also a number of issues relating to the coronavirus crisis, including Israeli-American efforts to find a cure.”
When asked whether the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan – which endorses the application of Israeli sovereignty over Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria – would be the primary issue in talks with Israeli leaders, Pompeo said that “there will be talks with the prime minister and Gantz about the plan and what they think about it.”
Responding to reports that his trip is aimed at convincing the new Israeli government to push off the application of sovereignty, Pompeo said that the decision to apply sovereignty is Israel’s to make.
“I’ve said in the past that this is Israel’s decision to make. I want to understand what the new government thinks about that.”
“I’m planning to hear that they think in the talks. Several months have passed, and in the end, it’s an Israeli decision. With that being said, I will definitely discuss together with them what the best way is to implement the peace plan which the prime minister has agreed to.”
Last week, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told Israel Hayom that Israel can apply sovereignty over those areas designated to it under the Trump plan in a matter of weeks.
“Once the mapping process has been completed, and once the Israeli government agrees to freeze construction in those parts of Area C which are not designated for [Israeli] sovereignty, and once the Prime Minister has agreed to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the Trump plan – and he already agreed to that this Sunday – we will recognize Israeli sovereignty in the areas which under the [Trump] plan will become part of it [Israel],” said Friedman.
Prompted to respond to Friedman’s comments, Pompeo reiterated his position that Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are legal under international law, and that it is up to Israel to decide how to proceed.
“We’ve made clear what we believe is appropriate under international law. We’ve said also that Israel can make its own legal determinations, and we’ve seen that the courts in Israel have ruled in the past regarding land use, and whether the settlements adhere to Israeli law or not.”
The application of sovereignty “is an Israeli decision, and we will give our opinion on what is the best path, in a way that fits in with the vision for peace.”