UN, EU officials warn new Israeli government against annexing West Bank
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UN, EU officials warn new Israeli government against annexing West Bank

Foreign Ministry reacts angrily to statement by EU foreign policy chief, while UN Mideast envoy tells Security Council move would deal ‘devastating blow’ to peace

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Tel Aviv, September 10, 2019.  (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Tel Aviv, September 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Senior officials in the European Union and United Nations on Thursday warned Israel not to annex parts of the West Bank, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz signed a coalition agreement saying the move could potentially go ahead as early as July.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, issued a stark warning against the intention to annex parts of the West Bank, saying that such a move “would constitute a serious violation of international law.”

Borrell said the 27-member bloc does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory and that it will “continue to closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and will act accordingly.”

The Foreign Ministry slammed Borrell over his statement.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during a press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, January 31, 2020. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

“It’s unfortunate that Josep Borrell, who pretends to be responsible for the foreign relations of the European Union, chooses in this manner to welcome a new government of a central partner to the EU and prefers to see relations between Israel and the EU through the prism of the pandemic and the ‘status of the territories,’” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry questioned Borrell’s decision to issue the statement, saying he did so only after failing to gain backing for it from all EU states.

“We wonder which states the honorable gentleman is choosing to represent,” the ministry said.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz thanked EU states that refused to back Borrell’s statement, but didn’t name them.

“I thank our friends in Europe who oppose Borrell’s announcement and prevented the adoption of the text in the EU’s name. These states recognize the value of relations with Israel and we’ll continue to advance relations between Israel and Europe together with them,” he said.

However, a diplomatic source told The Times of Israel that the EU did not hold a vote on approving the text and the meeting dealt more with timing than substance.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump’s Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Meanwhile, in a video briefing with the Security Council, which holds a meeting each month on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the UN Middle East peace envoy, Nikolay Mladenov, said an Israeli annexation would deal a “devastating blow” to the internationally backed two-state solution.

While hailing what he called “inspiring examples of cooperation across conflict lines” in the coronavirus battle, Mladenov warned that in the past month there has also been “continued confrontation and fighting, as the human toll of war continues to rise.”

“The dangerous prospect of annexation by Israel of parts of the occupied West Bank is a growing threat,” Mladenov said, arguing that such a move would violate international law.

The envoy said annexation would also “close the door to a renewal of negotiations and threaten efforts to advance regional peace.”

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

Mladenov called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “seize this moment to take steps towards peace” and “reject unilateral moves that will only deepen the wedge between the two peoples and undermine the chances for peace.”

A peace plan unveiled earlier this year by US President Donald Trump — which angered the Palestinians and was rejected by much of the international community — gave Israel the green light to annex settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley area.

Netanyahu and Gantz struck a power-sharing deal to form a national emergency government this week, after three inconclusive elections in less than a year. Netanyahu has heralded the Trump plan as a historic opportunity for Israel but Gantz has been more cautious, offering mixed signals about annexation.

Netanyahu’s right-wing base is eager to move forward with annexation while the friendly Trump administration is in office.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinians seek those territories as part of a future independent state. Annexation of West Bank settlements would infuriate the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors.

The Netanyahu-Gantz deal stipulates that any Israeli action would need US backing, and must take into account Israel’s peace treaties with neighboring Jordan and Egypt.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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