UN chief calls on Israel to abandon West Bank annexation plan

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Israel on Wednesday to abandon its plans to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“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,” he said.

In this Feb. 24, 2020, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu checks the area map during visit to Ariel settlement in the West Bank. (AP)
In this Feb. 24, 2020, file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu checks the area map during visit to Ariel settlement in the West Bank. (AP)

The remarks come after more than 1,000 lawmakers in Europe said in a letter that any Israeli move to annex parts of the West Bank would be “fatal” for Middle East peace hopes, and must be prevented if necessary with countermeasures.

The June 23 letter, signed by 1,080 lawmakers from 25 countries and made public on Wednesday, raises parliamentary concerns about US President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. The signatories said annexation would break international law.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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 that envisages Israeli sovereignty over 30 percent of the West Bank and Palestinian statehood under strict conditions.

“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 Jan. 28 peace plan.

The plan offers US recognition of Israel’s settlements dotted across the West Bank, and Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley -- land captured in the 1967 Middle East war and claimed by Palestinians for a future state.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014 and the Palestinians see annexations as an illegal land grab.

The United Nations Security Council has said settlements violate international law. Israel disputes this, citing biblical, historical and political connections to the land.

The European lawmakers called for “commensurate consequences” if Israel, which has more than 400,000 settlers in the West Bank, went ahead with annexation -- a reference to possible economic, trade or other sanctions.

“Failure to adequately respond would encourage other states with territorial claims,” the letter said.

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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