UN chief says West Bank annexation would violate international law

Antonio Guterres says Netanyahu’s plan to apply Israeli sovereignty to Jordan Valley is ‘devastating’ to the potential for regional peace

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset, September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset, September 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

NEW YORK — UN chief Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley and settlements in the West Bank if reelected would violate international law.

“Such steps, if implemented, would constitute a serious violation of international law,” Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

“They would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations and regional peace, while severely undermining the viability of the two-state solution,” he said.

Netanyahu on Tuesday promised to quickly apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley if put back into office as he pitched voters ahead of the September 17 election.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a meeting in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 30, 2019, to discuss the situation in Libya. (Fethi Belaid/AFP)

Netanyahu’s vow was roundly condemned by the Palestinians as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, with the EU saying it would not recognize any change to Israel’s borders that was not agreed to by both sides.

The UN on Tuesday warned that the plan would have no “international legal effect.”

“The secretary-general’s position has always been clear: unilateral actions are not helpful in the peace process,” Dujarric said.

“Any Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdictions and administration in the occupied West Bank is without any international legal effect,” Dujarric added.

The EU warned Wednesday that Netanyahu’s pledge undermines chances for peace in the region.

“The policy of settlement construction and expansion… is illegal under international law and its continuation, and actions taken in this context, undermine the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points at a map of the Jordan Valley as he gives a statement, promising to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said all agreements with Israel will be canceled if Netanyahu presses forward.

“We have the right to defend our rights and achieve our goals by all available means, whatever the results, as Netanyahu’s decisions contradict the resolutions of international legitimacy and international law,” he said.

The speaker of Jordan’s lower house of parliament said Wednesday that the plan could put Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel “at stake.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation said it would hold an emergency foreign ministers’ meeting on Sunday to discuss the plan.

Domestic critics on the right dismissed the speech as an empty campaign promise, with some asserting that Netanyahu could have annexed the territory immediately via the cabinet without waiting until after the election.

On Wednesday Netanyahu said that he had planned to declare immediate sovereignty over the area but was warned by the attorney general that he did not have the authority to do so unless or until he formed a new government after elections.

Around 10,000 settlers live in some 30 communities included in the area over which Israel would apply sovereignty. The area, almost a quarter of the West Bank, would exclude but encircle the Palestinian city of Jericho and the town Al-Auja, and include six other Palestinian communities.

A Palestinian shepherd herds his flock near the Israeli settlement of Argaman, in the Jordan Valley, a strip of West Bank land along the border with Jordan, Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Netanyahu said Tuesday he would also move toward annexing West Bank settlements, but was waiting for the release of the US peace plan to do it in coordination with the White House.

A Trump administration official said after Netanyahu’s announcement Tuesday that there was no change in US policy.

“We will release our Vision for Peace after the Israeli election and work to determine the best path forward to bring long sought security, opportunity and stability to the region,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Washington has said it will wait until after the Israeli elections on September 17 to roll out its much-awaited plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The economic part of the plan was reviewed during a June economic conference in Bahrain, though not attended by Israeli or Palestinian officials.

Before elections on April 9, Netanyahu issued a similar promise to apply Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements if he were to head the next government. However, Netanyahu came up one seat short needed for a ruling majority and rather than letting another lawmaker get a crack at forming a government, he pushed through a vote to dissolve the Knesset and call fresh elections.

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