Jewish Israelis in Samaria. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90) Hillel Maeir/Flash90
Samaria

Declaring Israeli sovereignty over Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria is “Israel’s decision,” said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

By United with Israel and AP

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the country’s plans to annex Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

Pompeo commented during the visit that Israel’s new government “the right and the obligation” to determine how it will apply sovereignty over those areas, which are already under Israeli control and have been since 1967.

“I reminded [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz] that, annexation is an Israeli decision,” Pompeo said in comments published by Israel Hayom.

Pompeo landed in Israel early Wednesday, donning a red, white and blue face mask, and headed directly to Jerusalem. He is the first foreign official to visit Israel since January, before the country largely shut its borders to curb the pandemic.

Standing alongside Pompeo, Netanyahu said the eight-hour visit is a “testament to the strength of our alliance.” The two said their talks would focus on shared concerns about Iran, the battle against the coronavirus and Israel’s incoming government.

Netanyahu and his new coalition partner, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, postponed the government’s swearing-in until Thursday to accommodate Pompeo’s visit. Before departing back to the U.S. later Wednesday, Pompeo also met with Gantz and with his fellow retired military chief Gabi Ashkenazi, the new government’s incoming foreign minister.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the meetings publicly, said the point of the lightning visit was not only to discuss annexation, but also the threat from Iran, as well as Israel’s ties with China.

While the official did not cite any particular issue, the U.S. has reportedly been pressuring Israel to rethink a bid by a Hong Kong company to build a massive desalination facility.

On Tuesday, an Israeli soldier was killed in Samaria after being struck in the head with by a rock thrown by a Palestinian terrorist off a rooftop. The military arrested 10 suspects.

Pompeo expressed his condolence on the soldier’s death and said “Israel has the right to defend itself and America will consistently support you in that effort.”

Under Trump’s Mideast plan unveiled in January, the Palestinians would have limited statehood contingent on a list of stringent requirements while Israel would annex Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians have rejected the plan and maintained a two-and-a-half year complete boycott of the Trump administration.

Netanyahu said the new government offered “an opportunity to promote peace and security based on the understandings I reached with President Trump.”

The presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has said he opposes annexation plans by Israel.

In November, Pompeo expressed the U.S.’ position that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are not “illegal” under international law, a position pushed by European nations that has been debunked by legal experts.

The Trump administration has said it will support the annexation of communities in Judea and Samaria as long as Israel agrees to enter peace talks with the Palestinians.

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