NEW YORK - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is facing a “watershed moment” over Israel’s annexation plans.
“If implemented, annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-state solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations,” the U.N. chief told a meeting of the Security Council. “I call on the Israeli government to abandon its annexation plans.”
Israel's new coalition government, sworn in one month ago and led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says it plans to start annexing as early as next Wednesday about 30% of the West Bank, as laid out in the Trump administration’s peace plan, including Israeli settlements and areas populated mainly by Palestinians. The government’s plan does not have the full support of the Israeli public.
Guterres reaffirmed that a lasting resolution to the decades-old conflict must be in line with international law, relevant U.N. resolutions and bilateral agreements.
“I will continue to consistently speak out against any unilateral steps that would undermine peace and the chances for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through meaningful negotiations,” he said.
Guterres spoke at the monthly discussion on the conflict in the Security Council, which was held in a virtual format, due to the suspension of in-person meetings at the U.N. complex in New York because of COVID-19.
The Secretary General of the League of Arab States also joined Guterres’s call for a halt to annexation.
“If implemented, Israeli annexation plans would not only be detrimental to the chances of peace today but will destroy any prospects for peace in the future,” Ahmed Aboul Gheit said.
He also warned that annexation has the dangerous potential to ignite a religious war in and beyond the Middle East.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said that Israel is testing the resolve of the international community.
“Israel needs to know that annexation will have immediate and tangible repercussions,” al-Malki told the council. “That is why we have called on the international community to adopt effective measures, including sanctions, to deter annexation and all other unlawful policies that have prepared the ground for it.”
Israel’s U.N. ambassador said he expects the international community to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusal to engage will not advance their interests. He was also adamant that his government has the right to annex parts of the West Bank.
“Should Israel decide to extend its sovereignty, it will be doing so with respect to areas over which it has always maintained a legitimate historical and legal claim,” Danny Danon said.
Ministers and ambassadors from the council’s 15-member nations expressed nearly unanimous concern that annexation could irreversibly undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.
“It would be a serious breach of international law in flagrant violation of the principle of non-acquisition of territory by force enshrined in the (U.N.) Charter,” said France’s envoy Nicolas de Rivière. “Any annexation of territory in the West Bank, regardless of its perimeter, would also irreversibly undermine the peace process and the two-state solution.”
It could also have consequences for Israel’s relations with other nations.
“Annexation could not go unanswered, and we implore Israel to reconsider,” said James Cleverly, Britain’s Minister for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The formal Annexation is an open challenge to the Security Council,” Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, said. “Why should the Council wait for the annexation to happen in order to assume its function?”
In December 2016 under the Obama administration, the United States abstained in a vote allowing the Security Council to adopt resolution 2334, which declared that Israeli settlements violate international law and are a major obstacle to a two-state solution. The resolution also called on Israel to cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, the United States neither expressed direct support or reservations about Israel’s annexation plans.
“I understand that many of you have concerns with this issue of the potential extension of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank,” U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said. “At the same time, we ask that you also hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for acts they are responsible for.”
She urged the Palestinian leadership “to pursue the prosperity of their people” and emphasized that the U.S. peace proposal is “the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one.”
There have been talks at the White House this week with Israeli officials on whether annexation should go ahead on July 1. Although it is envisioned in the Trump proposal unveiled in January, some on the U.S. side are reportedly concerned that if Israel moves too quickly, it could ruin any prospect of the Palestinians engaging on the overall plan. The Palestinian leadership has already dismissed the plan, sometimes referred to as The Deal of the Century.