U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, May 13, 2020. (Credit: State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, May 13, 2020. (Credit: State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha)

JERUSALEM - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday wrapped up a day-long trip to Israel, where he held meetings with Israeli officials. The talks focused on shared concerns about Iran and the Trump administration’s peace plan, which allows Israel to annex almost one-third of the West Bank and could spark new tensions in the Middle East.

Wearing a red, white, and blue face mask, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the first top official to visit Israel since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it was exactly two years ago that U.S. President Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a move that most Israelis welcomed.

Now, Pompeo said, it is time to move forward with President Trump’s peace plan.

“We’re now some months on from the day that you came to Washington when President Trump announced that Vision for Peace when you were there," Pompeo said. "There remains work yet to do, and we need to make progress on that. I’m looking forward to it.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu said the United States and Israel have cooperated in the fight against the coronavirus and on Iran. He thanked the U.S. for maintaining an arms embargo on Iran, and said he too wants to move forward on the peace plan.

“We’re about to form a national unity government, tomorrow, I am – I think that this is an opportunity to promote peace and security based on the understandings that I reached with President Trump in my last visit in Washington, in January,” said Netanyahu.

Israeli soldiers take position as Palestinian demonstrators gather during a protest against expansion of Israeli settlements, in the West Bank village of Beita near Nablus, March 2, 2020.

The plan allows Israel to impose sovereignty over almost one-third of the West Bank, which includes most of the Jewish settlements. It is a stark reversal of American policy, which until President Trump, had seen the settlements as illegal. Palestinians say the West Bank must be part of a future Palestinian state and have warned Israel against the annexation.

Several European countries, including France, Spain, Ireland and Sweden, say they will not accept the annexation. While some sanctions would require the unanimous agreement of the European Union, others, like trade agreements, do not.

Israeli political analyst Nimrod Goren of the Mitvim Institute says there have been growing tensions between Israel and the EU, which is headquartered in Brussels.

“There is a growing negative stance from Jerusalem toward Brussels, and when European states and foreign ministers have been voicing in recent weeks their opposition to Israeli annexation intentions, that led to another very strong reaction from Jerusalem toward Brussels, and that’s one of the things that a new Israeli government should try to change, because Europe is a strategic partner of Israel and quite a close friend,” Goren said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Israeli Speaker of the Knesset Benjamin Gantz, in Israel, May 13, 2020. (Credit: State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha)

An Israeli annexation of part of the West Bank is also likely to spark tensions with Jordan, which controlled area until 1967. The peace treaty with Israel has been increasingly unpopular with the public in Jordan, although the countries have strong security ties.

According to the guidelines of a new unity government between Netanyahu and former rival Benny Gantz, Israel can move ahead with annexation beginning in July.

But in fewer than two weeks, Netanyahu’s trial on graft and corruption charges is scheduled to begin. It is difficult to know whether the Israeli leader will move ahead with the annexation as a way of diverting attention from this trial, or if he will feel that the international condemnation is too high a price to pay.