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Mossad chief visits Jordan’s king amid annexation tension

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen recently visited Jordan, where he met with the country’s King Abdullah II to discuss Israel’s approaching annexation of areas of the West Bank.

Jordan has threatened to abrogate or downgrade its 1994 peace treaty with Israel if the annexation goes ahead and Abdullah is said to be so infuriated at Israel’s intentions that he has stopped accepting calls from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hebrew media cited an Israeli official as saying Cohen delivered an unspecified message from Netanyahu to Abdullah.

The two discussed Israel’s planned annexation of the Jordan Valley, a strategic area that runs along the border of the two countries. Cohen returned with a message from Abdullah for Netanyahu, the official said.

Jordan is one of two Arab countries that has official diplomatic ties with Israel, along with Egypt.

Under a coalition deal between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz signed last month, the government can pursue annexation of all the settlements and the Jordan Valley — the 30 percent of the West Bank allocated to Israel under the Trump administration’s peace plan — from July 1. The plan also conditionally provides for a Palestinian state on the remaining 70% of the territory.

On Wednesday, Gantz, the defense minister, met with Cohen, Shin Bet security agency chief Nadav Argaman and IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi, Ynet reported.

The meeting ended a week of “war games” held by various security entities in preparation for the annexation, which is expected to provoke an escalation in violence from West Bank Palestinians.

There have been reports that Israel is considering a more limited annexation move to claim just settlement areas close to Jerusalem.

Ynet reported that one idea discussed is adding the city of Ma’ale Adumim to the Jerusalem municipal area.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has said that Israel will not annex the Jordan Valley, according to a television report on Wednesday evening.

“I assume the annexation will not include the Jordan Valley. Everyone understands this,” Ashkenazi told officials in closed-door talks in recent days, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

There is rising international pressure on Israel to abandon its annexation plan.

It’s unclear if Israel will move ahead with annexation on July 1, the date Netanyahu has set to begin the process, since the United States reportedly wants the plan backed by Gantz and Ashkenazi, who are thus far withholding the go-ahead amid intense discussions.

It has also been suggested that the plan could move ahead in stages, or eventually apply to only relatively small patches of territory.

The United Nations and European and Arab powers on Wednesday warned Israel that the annexation could deal a major blow to peace, but the United States offered a green light.

“Decisions about Israelis extending sovereignty to those places are decisions for the Israelis to make,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Washington.

Last week Jordan’s Abdullah told US senators that annexation would be “unacceptable,” emphasizing the kingdom’s commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Abdullah has previously hinted that Jordan could tear up the peace deal with Israel if the plans go ahead.

The Palestinians have rejected the US peace plan, and earlier this month said they had submitted a counter-proposal for a demilitarized Palestinian state to the Middle East peacemaking Quartet — the US, EU, UN and Russia.

Header: Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Original: TOI