UN rights chief says annexation plans ‘illegal,’ consequences will last decades
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UN rights chief says annexation plans ‘illegal,’ consequences will last decades

Michelle Bachelet warns that extending sovereignty over West Bank areas ‘will be extremely damaging to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians’

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the opening day of the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, February 25, 2019. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the opening day of the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, February 25, 2019. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Israel’s aim to annex parts of the West Bank is “illegal,” the UN’s human rights chief said on Monday, warning that the consequences could be “disastrous.”

Just days before Israel intends to kick-start plans to annex its West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley — although the move is likely to be delayed — Michelle Bachelet added her voice to the chorus urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to drop the proposal.

“Annexation is illegal. Period,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement, which was rejected by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

“Any annexation. Whether it is 30 percent of the West Bank, or five percent,” she said, urging Israel to “listen to its own former senior officials and generals, as well as to the multitude of voices around the world, warning it not to proceed along this dangerous path.”

Israel has long dismissed the UN Human Rights Council as a body biased against it. The body has a permanent agenda item condemning Israel — the only country to have a such an item dedicated to it — and more decisions against the Jewish state have been approved by it than country-specific decisions against the rest of the world combined, according to the UN Watch monitor group.

The United States in 2018 quit the Human Rights Council, citing its political biases.

A picture taken on June 18, 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland, shows a general view during the opening of the 38th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. (AFP/Alain Grosclaude)

International condemnation of the possible Israeli annexations has mounted ahead of July 1, when the Jewish state could take its first steps toward implementing part of a US-proposed Middle East peace plan.

US President Donald Trump’s proposals, rejected outright by the Palestinians, pave the way for annexing key parts of the West Bank, while providing for an eventual Palestinian state in the remaining areas.

‘Shockwaves’

Bachelet urged Israel to shift course, claiming that “the shockwaves of annexation will last for decades, and will be extremely damaging to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians.”

“The precise consequences of annexation cannot be predicted,” she said. “But they are likely to be disastrous for the Palestinians, for Israel itself, and for the wider region.”

The UN rights chief warned that “any attempt to annex any part of the occupied Palestinian territory will not only seriously damage efforts to achieve lasting peace in the region, it is likely to entrench, perpetuate and further heighten serious human rights violations that have characterized the conflict for decades.”

Her statement cautioned that such a move would “almost certainly” lead to increased restrictions on Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement, as their population centers would become enclaves.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

In addition, significant tracts of private land would likely be illegally expropriated, she argued, and even in cases where this does not occur, many Palestinians could lose access to cultivate their own lands.

And Palestinians who found themselves living inside the annexed areas would allegedly likely experience greater difficulty accessing essential services like healthcare and education, while humanitarian access could also be blocked.

Bachelet’s office claimed that Palestinians inside the annexed area would come under heavy pressure to move out, pointing out that entire communities currently not recognized under Israeli planning would be at high risk of “forcible transfer.”

And settlements, which are already recognized by many as a clear violation of international law, would almost certainly expand.

“This is a highly combustible mix,” Bachelet said. “I am deeply concerned that even the most minimalist form of annexation would lead to increased violence and loss of life, as walls are erected, security forces deployed and the two populations brought into closer proximity.”

The UN rights chief warned that “the existing two-tier system of law in the same territory will become embedded, with devastating impacts on the lives of Palestinians who have little or no access to legal remedy.”

Bachelet said annexation would not change Israel’s obligations under international law as an “occupying power towards the occupied population.”

“Instead, it will grievously harm the prospect of a two-state solution, undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations, and perpetuate the serious existing human rights and international humanitarian law violations we witness today.”

Israel’s Foriegn Ministry responded by saying that given Bachelet’s “one-sided approach,” it was expected that she would align with the Palestinians.

“This is not the first time that High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has used her position to politicize the commission against Israel, while presenting a one-sided approach,” the ministry said in a statement. “Therefore, it is not surprising that she decided today to join the Palestinian campaign against the American peace plan and to make announcements before any decision on the matter has been taken.

“Israel lost faith a long time ago in the ability of the commissioner to advance human rights in our region in a fair way,” the statement continued and noted that Israel cut ties with the commissioner in February 2020 “due to her one-sided approach.”

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