United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday urged the Israeli government to abandon a developing plan to annex about a third of the occupied West Bank, which “has alarmed Palestinians, many Israelis, and the broader international community.”
“We are at a watershed moment,” Guterres declared. “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’ comments came during a virtual address to the U.N. Security Council and echoed remarks from a Tuesday interview with the Associated Press in which he warned that “annexation would be not only against international law but it would be a major factor to destabilize the region.”
Reiterating his support for a two-state solution, the U.N. chief told the AP that “I hope that this voice of reason that is not only mine, it is echoing across the world, will be heard by the Israeli authorities and that annexation does not take place on July 1.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can present a plan to annex about 30% of the West Bank—in line with the widely criticized “vision for peace” that U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled in January—to Israel’s coalition government as soon as July 1.
Even though the Security Council considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Trump’s broader vision for the region, as Reuters noted Tuesday, offered U.S. recognition to the settlements and “Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley—land captured in the 1967 Middle East war and claimed by Palestinians for their own future state.”
In order to move forward with any annexation plan, Netanyahu is counting on support from the Trump administration—which, as the New York Times reported Monday, “has sent mixed signals, initially greenlighting annexation, then putting the brakes on, and now, apparently, reconsidering the move in White House meetings” that began Tuesday.
As the Times explained:
While both American and Israeli officials support annexation in principle, the White House encouragement came in the context of its plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr. Netanyahu has distanced himself from some parts of the plan, which also calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the freezing of any expansion of Israeli settlements in the areas slated for that state. Those conditions are anathema to the right-wing Israeli settlers whom Mr. Netanyahu sought to woo with annexation in the first place.
The administration has insisted that Mr. Netanyahu obtain the consent of his centrist coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, for any annexation. Mr. Gantz, who is on record opposing unilateral annexation, says he will not agree to it without the acquiescence of the king of Jordan. The king, Abdullah II, has warned of a “massive conflict” with Israel if it proceeds.
Mr. Gantz has also insisted that any annexation occur only as an integral part of the Trump administration’s peace plan, which he says he supports in full, not in part.
No final decisions were reached during the Trump administration’s “informal internal discussions” on Tuesday, according to Reuters. The agency reported that while Trump did not attend, the meeting included his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday that extending Israel’s sovereignty to parts of the occupied West Bank was a decision “for Israelis to make.”
The international community, meanwhile, continues to deliver sharp critiques of any annexation plan and the Trump administration’s proposal more broadly. Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special envoy for the Middle East, was introduced to speak at the Security Council meeting Wednesday by Guterres.
Mladenov reportedly 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.”
Annexation “could dramatically alter local dynamics, triggering instability among the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” he added. “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.”
In a joint letter Tuesday, 1,080 parliamentarians from 25 European countries also declared opposition to Israeli annexation of the West Bank, expressing concern about the impact “on the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, as well as its destabilizing potential in a region on our continent’s doorstep,” and demanding a “just solution.”
Despite the letter’s claim that European MPs are prepared assist with achieving such a solution, “a Reuters examination based on internal documents and interviews with more than two dozen diplomats and officials shows there is no clear E.U. strategy either on how to stop Israel’s plan or to respond in a meaningful way if annexation goes ahead,” the news agency reported Tuesday.
The European letter and Reuters reporting came after 10 humanitarian, development, and religious organizations that serve Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza issued a joint statement on Monday urging the Israeli government to refrain from annexation and urging the U.S. government “to use its diplomatic influence to prevent such annexation and promote a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is consistent with international law and guarantees safety for all of the region’s people.”
The statement—signed by the Alliance for Middle East Peace, Anera, CARE, Church World Service, the Lutheran World Federation, MedGlobal, Mennonite Central Committee, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, and Refugees International—expressed particular concern that “Palestinian communities living in and adjacent to annexed territory will lose access to Palestinian-run healthcare facilities, further depriving them of much-needed resources, services, and basic healthcare during this critical COVID-19 pandemic.”