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UAE calls on Israel to back off over move to annex West Bank

'Continued Israeli talk of annexing Palestinian lands must stop,' warns Gulf nation's minister of foreign affairs
'Any unilateral Israeli move will be a serious setback for the peace process,' said Anwar Gargash (AFP)

A senior United Arab Emirates (UAE) official said on Monday that any unilateral move by Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank would be a serious setback for any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Continued Israeli talk of annexing Palestinian lands must stop," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post.

Israel's planned annexation of the Jordan Valley: Why it matters

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Israel's planned annexation of the Jordan Valley: Why it matters
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The annexation of the Jordan Valley could effectively kill whatever hopes remain for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict as it would render completely impossible the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

In April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an agreement with his rival Benny Gantz to form a unity government that seek to impose Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. Legislature could be discussed from 1 July.

The Jordan Valley accounts for around one-third of the occupied West Bank (almost 2,400 square kilometres), where 30 Israeli agricultural settlements house around 11,000 settlers.

Some 56,000 Palestinians also reside in the Jordan Valley, including in the city of Jericho, where their daily lives are deeply impacted by Israeli occupation policies. 

The area is rich in minerals and agricultural soil and is a highly strategic area, as it lies along the Jordanian border.

Jordan, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and senior officials in the European Union openly oppose the annexation plan, while the administration of US President Donald Trump has encouraged such moves.

"Any unilateral Israeli move will be a serious setback for the peace process, undermine Palestinian self-determination and constitute a rejection of the international and Arab consensus towards stability and peace," he wrote.

At a meeting of legislators of his rightwing Likud party last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed his intention to annex some illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley as early as 1 July, describing it as an "historic opportunity".

Netanyahu has cited US President Donald Trump's Middle East plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, released in January, as underpinning his de facto annexation. 

Despite Palestinian objections to the so-called "deal of the century", US-allied Gulf states, including the UAE, have largely voiced support for Trump's plan.

UAE coronavirus aid rejected

Last month, the Palestinian Authority (PA) rejected coronavirus aid sent via an Emirati flight to Israel, saying that aid must be sent in coordination with Palestinian leadership and not with Israel. 

"There has been no coordination with the PA, so we cannot receive such aid," the PA Minister of Health Mai Alkaila told a news conference. 

Palestinian Authority rejects UAE coronavirus aid delivered via Israel
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"We are a sovereign authority. Coordination must be directly with us."

The Etihad cargo plane loaded with humanitarian aid for Palestinians to help curb the spread of coronavirus was the first publicly announced flight from the United Arab Emirates to Israel.

Several Israeli media outlets reported that the flight took place in coordination with Israel's foreign ministry and the UN's World Food Programme.

Israel and the UAE do not have formal diplomatic relations, despite their de facto alliance against Iran.

'Normalisation' opposed

Palestinians and their supporters oppose "normalisation" efforts with Israel, arguing that diplomatic pressure is an essential tool to get Israel to put an end to its occupation of Palestinian territories and the violation of human rights.

Last year, Israel's then-Foreign Minister Israel Katz visited Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, where he discussed the "Iranian threat" with Emirati officials, his office said at the time. 

In 2018, Miri Regev, who was serving as Israel's sports minister, also flew to the Emirati capital, notably going on a public tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Israel was also due to participate in the World Expo 2020 in Dubai, which was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Israeli media reported in April that the Emirati government offered to evacuate Israeli citizens stuck in Morocco because of the pandemic.

Jordan threat

Last month, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said Israel's annexation would "choke off any hope of peace".

Israel's annexation of West Bank would 'choke off any hope of peace', Joe Biden says
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Speaking to Jewish-American supporters at a virtual fundraiser, Biden vowed to reverse Trump's "undercutting of peace" and resume aid to Palestinians.

"Israel needs to stop the threats of annexation and stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace," he said.

Jordan has also threatened to review its relationship with Israel if the annexation plans went ahead.

Other countries have also condemned the annexation plans, including much of the European Union, which has warned it could affect Israel’s ties with the bloc.