At UN, Arab League head warns of ‘religious war’ if Israel annexes in West Bank
After Security Council meeting, Pompeo signals US backing for Israeli move; Israel’s envoy says it would be applying sovereignty, not annexing; UN chief warns of ‘watershed moment’
The United Nations, European Union countries, and the Arab League joined Wednesday in calling for Israel to abandon its plans to annex parts of the West Bank, as the Jewish state’s envoy to the international body insisted the step would not stand in the way of peace with the Palestinians.
The calls were made during a UN Security Council video conference on the issue.
It was the last international meeting before July 1, when Israel may begin moving the plan forward.
“We are at a watershed moment,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “If implemented, annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law. I call on the Israeli government to abandon its annexation plans.”
He reiterated the longstanding goal of a two-state solution with an independent, contiguous, sovereign and viable Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.
Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit said annexation “will destroy any prospect for peace in the future” and could ignite “a religious war in and beyond our region.”
“The possible move by the Israeli government to annex parts of the occupied Palestinian territory would constitute, if implemented, a serious threat to regional stability,” he added.
The UN coordinator for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, said annexation “could irrevocably alter the nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations.”
He added: “It risks upending more than a quarter of a century of international efforts in support of a future viable Palestinian state living in peace, security and mutual recognition with the State of Israel.”
Any Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories would be a “crime,” the top Palestinian diplomat told the UN Security Council, warning of immediate repercussions if that occurs.
While everyone speaks of a situation at the crossroads, said Palestinian representative Riad Al-Maliki, “Unfortunately the driver is Israel and seems it will not stop at the crossroads to assess the implications of its choices.”
“Israel seems determined to ignore that big red stop sign the international community erected to save lives,” he said.
In a joint statement, EU members of the Security Council warned annexation would harm its ties with Israel.
“We all currently enjoy a close relationship with Israel and wish to continue working with Israel in a constructive and comprehensive way, in the spirit of the longstanding friendship that binds us. However, following our obligations and responsibilities under international law, annexation would have consequences for our close relationship with Israel and would not be recognized by us,” it said.
Pompeo: Annexation up to Israel
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated Wednesday that Israel had the US green light to annex Palestinian land.
“Decisions about Israelis extending sovereignty to those places are decisions for the Israelis to make,” Pompeo told reporters, moments after the UN Security Council meeting ended.
“We are talking to all of the countries in the region about how it is we can manage this process for our end-state objective,” he said.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon, addressing the Security Council meeting, took issue with the term annexation.
“Should Israel decide to extend its sovereignty, it would be doing so with respect to areas over which it has always maintained a legitimate historical and legal claim,” he said. “Those who oppose Israel’s legal claims to this territory, also wrongly mischaracterize any potential Israeli decision to extend its sovereignty as ‘annexation.’ These objections result from embracing a Palestinian false narrative, rather than an assessment of the historical and legal truth.”
Experts have said there is no legal difference between the terms.
“The discussion over the extension of Israeli sovereignty to certain areas in Judea and Samaria does not stand in the way of peace,” said Danon, using the biblical name for the West Bank. “It is time that the Palestinians realize that rejectionism is a losing strategy and it is time that the international community chooses realism over rejectionism.”
Plans are to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank as well as the strategic Jordan Valley, as part of a broader US blueprint for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The plan — endorsed by Washington — would see the creation of a Palestinian state, but on reduced territory, and without Palestinians’ core demand of a capital in East Jerusalem.
The plan has been rejected in its entirety by the Palestinians.
It’s unclear if Israel will move ahead with annexation on July 1, the date Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set to begin the process, since the United States reportedly wants the plan backed by Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi — the defense and foreign ministers — who are thus far withholding the go-ahead amid intense discussions.
It has also been suggested that the plan could move ahead in stages, or eventually apply to only relatively small territory.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told a PLO-led protest against Israeli annexation plans on Wednesday that it does not matter if Israel annexes one settlement or the whole West Bank.
“”They say that ‘if we just take a little land, that doesn’t matter.’ No, it matters! Annexation is annexation, no matter its size. Small or large, it is a setback for the Palestinian people,” Shtayyeh said at the protest in the Jordan Valley town of Faisal.
“The Jordan Valley is like Jerusalem,” Shtayyeh said, in terms of its inviolability.