UN Chief Warns Israel West Bank Annexation Would Be 'Most Serious Violation of International Law'

Guterres and Mideast envoy urge Israel to abandon plan to annex parts of the West Bank, as EU members of Security Council warn of diplomatic 'consequences'

Noa Landau
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Antonio Guterres speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, February 2020.
Antonio Guterres speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, February 2020.Credit: AP Photo/K.M. Chaudhry, File)
Noa Landau

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special envoy for the Middle East, called on Israel on Wednesday to abandon its plans to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, warning that it threatened the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A joint statement by several EU current and incoming members of the UN Security Council also said that annexation would have diplomatic consequences and would not be recognized by them.

"If implemented, annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-state solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations," Guterres told the UN Security Council. "I call on the Israeli government to abandon its annexation plans," Guterres said.

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The joint statement from the current and incoming EU members of the council – Germany, Belgium France, Estonia, Ireland, the U.K., and Norway – stated that annexation "would have consequences for our close relationship with Israel and would not be recognized by us."

Mladenov meanwhile warned that annexation "will send one message and one message alone – bilateral negotiations cannot achieve a just peace. We cannot allow this to happen. No good can come out of the breakdown of dialogue and communications. Diplomacy must be given a chance."

He added that annexation "could dramatically alter local dynamics, triggering instability among the occupied Palestinian territory. This conflict has been marked by periods of extreme violence, but never before has the risk of escalation been accompanied by a political horizon so distant, an economic situation so fragile and a region so volatile."

James Cleverly, the U.K.'s minister of state for the Middle East and North Africa in the Foreign Office, told the Security Council that "annexation cannot go unanswered."

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft told the council: "I understand that many of you have concerns with this issue of the potential extension of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. At the same time, we ask that you also hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for acts they are responsible for."

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon told the council that there is "a strong and undeniable connection between the Jewish people and our historic homeland of Judea and Samaria. This has been true for over three millennia and no Palestinian propaganda can change that ... Some in the international community choose to reward the Palestinians’ rejectionism and ignore reality. Instead of confronting the Palestinian leadership, they have tried to appease them by buying every rotten bill of goods the Palestinians were selling. This approach of blindly accepting the Palestinian narrative and demands has not and will not lead to a lasting and sustainable end to the conflict."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meanwhile told reporters that decisions about annexation are "for Israelis to make." With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's July 1 deadline approaching, aides to U.S. President Donald Trump began discussions on Tuesday on whether to give Netanyahu the green light for annexation, which has drawn condemnation from the Palestinians and U.S. Arab allies.

In the Security Council session, Guterres called on the Middle East Quartet of mediators – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – "to take up our mandated mediation role and find a mutually agreeable framework for the parties to re-engage, without preconditions, with us and other key states.

Also Wednesday, a letter opposing annexation signed by over 1,000 European lawmakers was made public.

“Such a move (annexation) will be fatal to the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace and will challenge the most basic norms guiding international relations,” the letter said. “Acquisition of territory by force has no place in 2020,” said the lawmakers, who included members of parliament from Hungary and the Czech Republic, two countries sympathetic to Israel and to Trump’s plan.

Netanyahu has set July 1 as the date for the start of cabinet discussions on moving forward on annexation, in line with Trump’s plan to end the conflict, which envisages Israeli sovereignty over 30 percent of the West Bank and Palestinian statehood under strict conditions.

Netanyahu has dismissed criticism of the annexation plans. He says that extending Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank will bring peace closer once critics of the move recognize that hundreds of thousands of settlers in the area will remain under any future deal.

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