Israel urged at UN to back away from West Bank annexation plan
States warn annexation threatens Middle East and will not be recognised
New York — The UN, European and Arab powers on Wednesday warned Israel that its plans to annex more Palestinian land next week would deal a major blow to peace but the US offered its green light.
One week before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to start the West Bank annexation process, a UN Security Council session provided a final opportunity for the international community to urge him to change course.
“I call on the Israeli government to abandon its annexation plans,” UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres told the virtual conference.
The UN co-ordinator for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, said annexation “could irrevocably alter the nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations”.
“It risks upending more than a quarter of a century of international efforts in support of a future viable Palestinian state living in peace, security and mutual recognition with the State of Israel,” he said.
Seven European nations — Belgium, Britain, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland and Norway — in a joint statement warned that annexation would “severely undermine” prospects for resuming the Middle East peace process.
“Under international law, annexation would have consequences for our close relationship with Israel and would not be recognised by us,” they warned.
Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit said annexation “will destroy any prospect for peace in the future” and threaten regional stability.
US defers to Netanyahu
But the administration of President Donald Trump, a close ally of Netanyahu, has declined to criticise annexation and has rejected the consensus of most of the world that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal.
“Decisions about Israelis extending sovereignty to those places are decisions for the Israelis to make,” secretary of state Mike Pompeo told reporters in Washington.
Trump in January unveiled a Middle East plan that would pave the way for Israel to annex areas around Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley that it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Palestinians, in turn, would have an independent state but one that is demilitarised with a capital on the outskirts of hostly contested Jerusalem.
The plan also calls for major economic investment into Palestinian areas, funded largely by Gulf Arab states that find common cause with Netanyahu and Trump in hostility towards Iran.
But US allies including the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, one of two Arab states to have a peace treaty with Israel, have warned that annexation would jeopardise the Jewish state's hopes for better ties.
Pompeo brushed aside such concerns, saying the US was “talking to all of the countries in the region” about the weeks ahead.
“I regret only that the Palestinian Authority has refused to participate in that,” Pompeo said.
Palestinians urge action
At the UN, Palestinian representative Riyad al-Malki said annexation would be a “crime”.
“Israel seems determined to ignore that big red stop sign the international community erected to save lives,” he said.
He warned that the Palestinians could approach the International Court of Justice and urged nations to impose sanctions on Israel if it goes ahead.
European nations, while opposed to annexation, have been split on how severely to respond if Israel goes ahead.
Israel's UN ambassador Danny Danon criticised the Palestinians, saying the stalemate was due to their refusal to negotiate.
“Some in the international community choose to reward the Palestinians' rejectionist and ignore reality,” he said.
“Instead of confronting the Palestinian leadership, they have tried to appease them by buying every rotten bill of goods the Palestinians were selling.”
Netanyahu can begin to consider annexation on July 1 under a coalition deal with defence minister and coalition partner Benny Gantz, who has been more cautious, especially in assessing reaction in the US. Gantz said on Tuesday he was willing to enter direct talks with Palestinian representatives but ''would not wait forever''. The comment was seen as a sign he would back the annexation.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president who leads Trump in polls, has voiced opposition to annexation.