Over 100 international law experts sign letter against West Bank annexation

In document addressed to Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, signatories say extending sovereignty is ‘flagrant violation of bedrock rules’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a campaign address next to a map of proposed areas of the West Bank for annexation on September 10, 2019. (screen capture: Facebook)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a campaign address next to a map of proposed areas of the West Bank for annexation on September 10, 2019. (screen capture: Facebook)

Over 100 experts and scholars of international law from around the world have called on Israel to not annex parts of the West Bank, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared it is his intention to do.

In a letter sent Thursday, the signatories warned that annexation would “constitute a flagrant violation of bedrock rules of international law, and would also pose a serious threat to international stability in a volatile region.”

The document was addressed to Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Netanyahu has vowed to swiftly, and unilaterally, extend Israeli sovereignty to some 30 percent of the West Bank in accordance with the Trump administration peace plan, which also paves the way for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state on the remaining territory.

The letter was published on the website of Kevin Jon Heller, associate professor of public international law at the University of Amsterdam. Among those who signed the letter were several academics from Israel.

“The norm prohibiting unilateral annexation of territory acquired by force has come to be universally recognized as a basic rule of international law,” the letter said.

Unilateral annexation of any part of the West Bank “would be null and void, entail consequences of international wrongfulness, and – under certain circumstances – lead to individual international criminal liability.”

“In this context, it matters not whether such actions would be effected through ‘extension of sovereignty,’ ‘extension of law, jurisdiction, and administration,’ or explicit annexation,” the letter noted.

Arguing against Israel making a unilateral move, the writers went on to cite Mandelblit’s own reasoning against the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction in the West Bank when he ruled in December 2019 that the “binding Israeli-Palestinian agreements… expressly leave such matters to direct negotiation between the parties.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at an event in Bar Ilan University. March 4, 2020. (FLASH90)

The document also pointed out that “in accordance with its longstanding position that the West Bank is held under belligerent occupation, Israel consistently argued that its actions in the territory are justified by the temporary nature of the situation, and motivated by security concerns alone.”

“Any move to annex territories will put in question past and future arguments by Israel that its actions are indeed concerned only with legitimate security needs,” it said.

“We therefore urge you to reconsider this path, which is clearly unlawful and will most likely have adverse consequences, including non-recognition and other consequences of an internationally wrongful act,” the letter continued. “This is in addition to the harm to the legitimacy and foreign relations of the State of Israel, and to a high likelihood of violent escalation.”

The annexation, which Netanyahu wants to move forward with starting July 1, has drawn a flurry of regional and international condemnations.

Jordanian officials, including the kingdom’s prime minister and foreign minister, have threatened to reconsider their treaties and agreements with Israel in the event of annexation.

Visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday restated his country’s opposition to annexation, but stopped short of announcing possible punitive measures Berlin could take if Jerusalem goes ahead with its controversial plan.

Egypt and Russia have also both warned Israel against annexation.

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