UN envoy: 'Israel must abandon threats of annexation'

Russia, UN and Vatican condemn unilateral Israeli annexation plan

International community steps up denunciations of proposal to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of West Bank

File: Nickolay Mladenov, left, United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, briefs the United Nations Security Council in a video conference, Monday November 19, 2018 at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
File: Nickolay Mladenov, left, United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, briefs the United Nations Security Council in a video conference, Monday November 19, 2018 at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

International opposition to Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank continued to gain momentum Wednesday as representatives of the UN, Russia and the Vatican all expressed strong objections to the plan that could be implemented as early as July.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will advance plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to all settlements and to the Jordan Valley — some 30% of the West Bank — as a key policy of his new coalition government. Under the terms of the coalition deal, he is free to advance unilateral annexation from July 1, even though his key partner, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, opposes unilateral action and would prefer to negotiate with the other affected parties such as the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

Speaking at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, UN special Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov called on Israel to drop plans to annex parts of the West Bank while telling Palestinians to resume talks with the so-called Quartet, comprising the US, Russia, the EU and the United Nations.

“Israel must abandon threats of annexation,” Mladenov said.

“I call on my colleagues in the Middle East Quartet to work with the UN and quickly come forward with a proposal that will enable the Quartet to take up its mediation role and work jointly with countries in the region to advance the prospect of peace,” he added.

Nikolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, at Yad Vashem in August 28, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following the Security Council meeting and separate talks with Palestinian officials, the Vatican said that Israel’s possible annexation of large parts of the West Bank could further compromise peace talks.

Respect for international law and UN resolutions was an “indispensable element for the two peoples to live side by side,” the Vatican said after a meeting between chief foreign policy official Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

“The Holy See is following the situation closely, and expresses concern about any future actions that could further compromise dialogue,” the Vatican said in a statement.

It added that the Roman Catholic city-state hoped a resolution could soon be found through direct talks “so that peace may finally reign in the Holy Land, so beloved by Jews and Christians and Muslims.”

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday afternoon relayed Moscow’s “strong objection” to the Israeli government’s West Bank annexation plans in a conversation with his newly appointed counterpart Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, according to Israel’s Channel 13.

Israel’s unity government supports a plan launched by US President Donald Trump that would allow annexation of large parts of the West Bank.

Trump’s plan has already been rejected by the Palestinians and PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday said he was voiding all agreements with Israel and the US as a result. But Netanyahu said this week that annexation “won’t distance us from peace, it will bring us closer.”

In this February 18, 2020 photo, a view of the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Efraim on the hills of the Jordan Valley. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

According to the proposed plan, the US will recognize an Israeli application of sovereignty over parts of the West Bank following the completion of a survey conducted by a joint US-Israel mapping committee and Israel’s acceptance of both a four-year freeze of the areas earmarked for a future Palestinian state and a commitment to negotiate with the Palestinians based on the terms of Trump’s peace deal.

The latest round of condemnations come after the European Union’s top diplomat on Monday warned Israel against annexing parts of the West Bank, saying the bloc would not recognize any changes to the 1967 lines not agreed upon in a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

In a statement congratulating Israel on the formation of a new government, Josep Borrell also said the EU viewed Netanyahu’s commitment to push forward with annexation with “grave concern.”

“We strongly urge Israel to refrain from any unilateral decision that would lead to the annexation of any occupied Palestinian territory and would be, as such, contrary to international law,” he said.

Presenting his new government on Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel’s law should be extended over West Bank land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presenting the 35th government of Israel to the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Adina Veldman)

“These regions are the cradle of the Jewish people. It is time to extend Israel’s law over them. This step won’t bring us further away from peace, it will get us closer. The truth is, and everyone knows it, that the hundreds of thousands of settlers in Judea and Samaria will always stay put in any future deal,” Netanyahu said.

Several European nations led by France, and including Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg, have reportedly expressed support for threats of punitive action in a bid to deter the new Israeli government from carrying out annexation with a green light from Washington.

Proposed steps include announcing that Israel would be prevented from entering into trade agreements with the bloc, receiving EU grants or participating in other forms of cooperation with the union. It is not clear if the steps would apply to future agreements or freeze existing ones.

As part of their coalition agreement, Netanyahu and Gantz agreed that the government can begin moving forward with applying Israeli sovereignty to settlements and the Jordan Valley after July 1, a move expected to enjoy backing from a majority of lawmakers in the Knesset.

Though Gantz opposes unilateral action, he also says he backs the Trump plan, and acquiesced to Netanyahu’s demand to allow the matter to be brought to a vote in parliament.

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