Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides will pay a last minute visit to Israel on Tuesday, days after President Nicos Anastasiades called off his trip citing coronavirus concerns and just before debate in the neighbouring country is expected to peak over annexation plans in West Bank.
According to the Cyprus News Agency, Christodoulides is set to fly to Tel Aviv on Tuesday, where he will meet his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi. The two men are scheduled to hold a brief discussion at Ben Gurion airport, with the Cypriot foreign minister set to return to the island after the "touch and go" trip.
Anastasiades, who was due to visit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, called off the visit last week citing coronavirus concerns. The two leaders had agreed to push back their meeting after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had returned from Israel a day earlier.
Debate over annexation of parts in West Bank
Mitsotakis, who held talks with Netanyahu on a wide range of topics including energy and tourism, did not travel to Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, but later had a phone conversation with his Palestinian counterpart Mohammad Shtayyeh.
The diplomatic visits and talks take place as annexation chatter is rising in the background, with the Israeli government pushing for the country’s laws to apply in parts of the West Bank next month.
The Greek premier reiterated Athens’ position on a two state solution according to reports, while prior to the visit Israeli media outlet Haaretz speculated that Netanyahu would seek the Greek premier’s help to soften European reaction to annexation plans.
But annexation plans, which have been the focus of fierce debate within Israel, have also been criticized by the European Union, which maintains a position in line with Greece and the government of the Republic of Cyprus in favour of supporting a negotiated two-state solution. The Palestinian Authority also has rejected the plan.
Netanyahu speaks of “immediate existential threat”
According to the Times of Israel, Netanyahu sent a memo to Knesset members from his Likud party on Sunday, saying evacuations of settlements in the West Bank would pose an “immediate existential threat” to Isreal.
The memo, which was revealed by The Wall Street Journal, reportedly also stated that relinquishing territories where there are currently Jewish settlements would constitute a “historic injustice.”
Israel asks friends to soften EU criticism
Netanyahu has spoken on annexing parts of the West Bank as a measure for peace, with Israel reportedly counting on a number of “friendly countries” to soften the language in any EU resolution against annexation.
Any EU sanctions would require agreement of all 27 member states.
Josep Borrell, the EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, spoke on the issue during a speech at the European Parliament last week, warning that any unilateral action by Israel annexing Palestinian territory would “inevitably have significant consequences for the close relationship we currently enjoy with Israel.”
I will not prejudge the specific impact of a possible annexation, but let me underline that the EU has its own obligations and responsibility under international and EU law,” Borrell said.
White House moments before final decision
President Donald Trump has expressed support over a gradual annexation of parts of the West Bank. But the United Sates government won’t make an official decision until this week, when a crucial meeting is set to take place at the White House.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, one of Trump’s former lawyers, is also expected to attend the meeting according to media sources. Friedman has previously challenged the notion that Israeli settlements had to be viewed as illegal activities or against peace.