The international community on Wednesday lambasted Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank by July, while the United States said UN Security Council statements had become “a little bit repetitive.”
Current and previous European Union members of the UNSC urged Israel against any unilateral decision to annex “any occupied Palestinian territory … contrary to international law.”
In a statement before a Security Council meeting on the Middle East, the EU members – Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and Poland – voiced their “grave concern” of the plans announced by the new Israeli government earlier this week.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said that with a new government, he could apply Israeli law on Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in occupied West Bank “where the Jewish nation was born and rose.” During his speech to parliament, he said that it was time to apply Israeli law on the planned annexed lands to “write another great chapter in the annals of Zionism.”
However, as was evident Wednesday during the UN meeting, most of the international community is against the unilateral decision.
Belgium said it was looking forward to working with the new Israeli government but warned that changes to the 1967 border would not be recognized.
Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve, Belgium’s Permanent Representative to the UN, “strongly advise[d]” Israel against any advance on the annexation.
In a veiled reference to Washington, he called on the international community, “especially those with influence” to prevent the annexation, which would “risk consequences not only for Israel, but also for the wider region.”
And in direct response to the US envoy at the UN, de Buytswerve said direct negotiations should be relaunched between Palestine and Israel, “but that’s why we call on all partners [to prevent] unilateral decision that would undermine or seriously hamper prospects for this.”
Speaking earlier, US ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said that statements from Council members would “only get us so far,” recommending Palestine and Israel sit down with one another.
“This Council cannot dictate the end to this conflict. We can only encourage the parties to sit down together to determine how they wish to make progress,” Craft said.
Doubling down on questioning the effectiveness of the Council, Craft said the “real problem-solving” would take place “at a table at which both the Israelis and the Palestinians are seated.”
Craft also defended US President Donald Trump’s Vision for Peace, the so-called deal of the century, calling it “realistic and implementable.” She voiced her belief that all sides want to see an end to the conflict and the need for conversation between both parties.
“But if that conviction is sincere, then we must concentrate our efforts on bringing the parties to the table – and not on Council statements that I think we all have to admit have grown a little bit repetitive.”
For their part, France said annexation was not in the interest of anyone, including the international community. Warning the Israeli government of repercussions, France declared a move toward annexation would not go forward “without consequences on the relations of the EU with Israel.”
French Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said this would be detrimental to Israel’s role in the world. At the same time, he extended a hand to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying that France was ready to examine Abbas’s proposals to the Council in February.
African countries also leaped to the defense of the Palestinian cause. Tunisia said it was “high time” for the international community and the Security Council to compel Israel to abide by international law.
South Africa said Israel’s violations of international law could not be ignored or disregarded. It condemned what it called Israel’s exploitation of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand its “de facto annexation.”
US elections and Israel’s rush to annexation
The rush to carry out the annexation comes ahead of the US presidential elections in November.
There is a wide split among Republicans and Democrats over foreign policy and their respective views towards Israel.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Tuesday that he would “reverse Trump's undercutting of peace.”
“Israel needs to stop the threats of annexation and stop settlement activity because it will choke off any hope of peace,” he was quoted as saying during a call with the American Jewish community.
Israel has been encouraged to push ahead with the annexation based on a previous understanding with Trump, Netanyahu claimed during a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week.
On Wednesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Shtayyeh blamed Trump for the annexation plans.
“So even if Pompeo arrives in Tel Aviv to try to say whatever he said, the Israelis will not listen to him or to anybody else, because they know they enjoy a green light from the American president,” Shtayyeh was quoted as saying.
He added that Palestine was ready to move on from allowing the US to negotiate a solution.
A State Department official told Al Arabiya that Washington “continues to pursue the path that the President [Trump] set out in January when presenting the US Vision for Peace, and we are consulting closely with Israel on this and other issues.”
Separately, Axios reported Wednesday that Russia had stepped in to facilitate a meeting between Palestinian officials and Washington.
“In order to overcome the Palestinian boycott, the Russians are proposing a mini summit in Geneva with the Palestinians, the US, the other members of the Quartet and Arab states, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates,” the report said.
A Western diplomat based in the Middle East told Al Arabiya English he had not heard of the Russian proposal, but that “it doesn’t surprise me.”
The diplomat spoke of the conviction that Israel was trying to push ahead before the elections that will pit Trump against a Democratic party hoping to avenge Hilary Clinton’s 2016 loss. “It will be interesting to see how annexation goes.”