LONDON: Days before it leaves the European Union, Britain put itself at odds with European allies on Wednesday in warmly welcoming U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan while France and the wider EU warned that it must respect international law.
The plan envisages a Palestinian state but demilitarized and with borders drawn to meet Israel’s security needs. It accords U.S. recognition of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that most of the world regards as illegal.
The French Foreign Ministry welcomed the fact the Trump administration was putting forward ideas to resolve the conflict and said it would study the 181-page plan closely, but added that any agreement must “conform with international law”.
That line was reiterated by the European Commission, which said the proposals needed to respect “all relevant U.N. resolutions and internationally agreed parameters”.
But Britain, which has played a key role in the Middle East since World War One, offered no words of caution, instead welcoming the plan as a “serious proposal” and encouraging both sides to give it “genuine and fair consideration”.
The gap could signal a split on a critical area of foreign policy just before Britain formally leaves the EU on Friday.
The French reference to international law is important given that Israeli government officials have interpreted Trump’s plan as giving them a green light to move quickly in applying Israeli sovereignty over nearly a third of the West Bank by formally annexing the territory to Israel.
Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett wants to advance the issue immediately, with a fellow minister calling for a vote in the Israeli parliament in the coming days, despite the government only having a caretaker status.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Middle East war and built up a network of Jewish settlements across the territory, where more than 500,000 of its citizens now live, amidst around 3 million Palestinians.
The settlements are widely regarded as contravening international law, a position Israel disputes. Annexing the territory would be a clear breach of international law, analysts say, and violate the United Nations founding charter.
“The European Union has been clear that it cannot support a U.S. plan that runs counter to internationally agreed parameters, international law, and past U.N. Security Council resolutions,” said Hugh Lovatt, a Middle East specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations. (Reuters)