UNITED NATIONS — A group of former world leaders urged European leaders on Friday to keep pressuring Israel against annexation of parts of the West Bank, warning against complacency after Israel made no move to take over the territory on July 1.
The Elders, founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007, said in letters to the leaders of France, Germany, Britain and the European Union that they should insist to Israel that annexation would have negative political and economic consequences for bilateral and regional relations.
The Elders — led by former Irish President Mary Robinson with Mandela’s widow Graca Machel and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as co-chairs — said annexation “is fundamentally contrary to the long-term interests of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples.”
They said annexation “will not dampen future Palestinian demands for rights and self-determination, but destroying hopes in a two-state compromise will increase the risks of future violence in one of the most combustible areas in the world.”
The Elders called on EU leaders to consider suspending the 27-nation’s Association Agreement with Israel if annexation goes ahead in any form. They also recalled the United Kingdom’s “historical and abiding responsibility” as the colonial power in pre-1948 Palestine.
In addition to opposing annexation, the Elders reiterated their support for Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society activists, saying their “voices need to be protected and amplified at this challenging time.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had aimed to start the process by Wednesday, saying he wanted to begin annexing West Bank territory in line with US President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan.
But cabinet minister Ofir Akunis said the annexation process had been delayed, telling Army Radio on Wednesday that officials were still working out the final details with their American counterparts. He said he expected the annexation to take place later in July.
The two-state solution, backed by the UN Security Council and the vast majority of the international community, envisions an independent Palestinian state in the entire West Bank — territory Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 — and Gaza, with agreed land swaps. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their state but the future of Jerusalem is considered a final status issue to be decided in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The Trump administration’s peace plan, unveiled in January, envisions bringing some 30 percent of the West Bank under permanent Israeli control. The plan would establish a disjointed Palestinian state with limited autonomy in carved-up pockets of the remaining land and land swaps from inside today’s Israel. The Palestinians have vehemently rejected the plan as pro-Israeli.
On Thursday, Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Hamas terror group announced that they were joining forces to try to thwart annexation and topple the Trump plan.
The delay cast further uncertainty over whether Israel will ultimately follow through on the explosive annexation initiative, which has also drawn fierce international condemnations from some of Israel’s closest allies.
The United Nations, the EU and key Arab countries have all said annexation would violate international law and undermine the already diminished prospects of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The Elders’ appeal followed an appeal from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Israel to call off the annexation plan.
In a front-page article Wednesday in Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel’s largest newspapers, Johnson wrote that as a “passionate defender of Israel,” he was fearful that annexation will fail in the country’s objective of securing its borders, “and will be contrary to Israel’s own long-term interests.”
“I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead,” he said. “If it does, the UK will not recognize any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties.”
Netanyahu has defended his annexation plan on both security and religious grounds and says the friendly Trump administration has provided a rare opportunity to redraw Israel’s borders. He is eager to move forward before November’s US presidential election, especially with Trump’s reelection prospects in question, and made sure that the coalition agreement for his new government included the July 1 date for him to introduce a plan to parliament.
The coalition deal, however, also specifies that agreement must “be reached with the United States on the application of sovereignty,” and US officials held a series of meetings at the White House last week without publishing any decision on the matter.
Beyond international opposition, Netanyahu has encountered resistance from his Blue and White governing partners. Blue and White’s leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, this week said Wednesday’s target date was not “sacred” and suggested that annexation can wait while the government grapples with Israel’s coronavirus crisis. On Tuesday, Gantz said the Trump plan needs to be advanced “correctly, in bringing as many partners to this discussion from the countries of the region, with international backing.” He added: [We must] make every effort to connect with them and only then continue. And I think all the means to bring in the players have not yet been exhausted.”
US officials have indicated they do not want to move forward with a plan unless the two leaders are in agreement. Hebrew media reported Tuesday that Israel is seeking changes in a proposed US map for annexation, and that American officials are demanding an Israeli gesture to the Palestinians as compensation for any annexation that takes place.