UN Chief Condemns Netanyahu's Pledge to Annex Parts of West Bank

Steps announced by Netanyahu 'would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations and regional peace,' says UN Secretary General Guterres

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres
Brenden McDermid/Reuters

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed concern overnight Wednesday over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stated intention to apply Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea area of the West Bank if he is reelected prime minister in next week's election.

“Such steps, if implemented, would constitute a serious violation of international law,” the secretary general said in a statement. “They would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations and regional peace, while severely undermining the viability of the two-state solution.”

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Netanyahu announcing his annexation plans for the West Bank
Oded Balilty/AP

The Israeli prime minister announced the plans on Tuesday to apply Israeli law in those areas, effectively annexing them. He also said the Trump administration's peace initiative on the conflict would improve conditions for the peace process. "In recent months, I have led a diplomatic effort in that direction, and the conditions for it have ripened," he said.

According to the Israeli organization B'Tselem, which opposes Israel's presence in the West Bank, the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea region constitute about 30 percent of the West Bank, but Netanyahu is referring to a much smaller area that only encompasses the settlements in the area.

If the plan were to be carried out, it would create enclaves of Israeli settlements whose residents would be directly governed by Israeli law rather than by the Israeli army's Civil Administration, as is currently the case.

The Jordan Valley
AFP

Since the last election in April, following which Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition, he has been increasingly vocal in support of annexation steps. "We are discussing gradually applying Israeli sovereignty in the territory of Judea and Samaria," he said, referring to the West Bank. "I am not making a distinction between community [settlement] blocs and isolated communities. Every such community is Israeli from my standpoint," he said.

Last week in the settlement of Elkana, the prime minister said he hoped to apply "Jewish sovereignty on all of the communities [settlements] as part of the Land of Israel and the State of Israel."

Following Netanyahu's statement, a White House official said: "There is no change in United States policy at this time. We will release our Vision for Peace after the Israeli election and work to determine the best path forward to bring long sought security, opportunity and stability to the region."

The American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and President Donald Trump's outgoing Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, have said that Israel has the right to annex portions of the West Bank.

On Wednesday, a day before Thursday's meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort town of Sochi between Netanayahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia condemned Netanyahu's annexation plans. The Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow warned that the Israeli premier's declaration could lead to an escalation in the region.

On Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that all of the Palestinian agreements with Israel would be scrapped if Israeli sovereignty is applied to the Jordan Valley or any other portion of the West Bank. The Arab League called the prime minister's plan "a dangerous development" that undermines the chances of any progress in the peace process.