Israel plans for occupied West Bank would violate international law: EU

The European Union on Thursday issued a warning against the incoming Israeli government’s intention to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, saying that such a move “would constitute a serious violation of international law.”

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the 27-member bloc does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Palestinian territory and that it will “continue to closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and will act accordingly.”

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival Benny Gantz in three elections the past 13 months signed a coalition agreement that includes a clause to advance plans to annex parts of the West Bank, including Israeli settlements, starting on July 1.

Netanyahu’s pro-settler base is eager to move forward with annexation while the friendly administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is in office. Netanyahu also faces a looming corruption trial on charges he strenuously denies.

The White House’s long-awaited Mideast plan, unveiled earlier this year, envisions leaving parts of the West Bank under permanent Israeli control. The Palestinians have rejected the plan as biased.

Israel issues rebuttal

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said: “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions. That’s an Israeli decision. And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in a private setting.”

Israel captured the West Bank during the 1967 Mideast war. Since then, more than 700,000 Israelis have moved into settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal according to international law and an obstacle to a two-state solution to the conflict.

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of an independent state. Annexation of West Bank settlements would infuriate the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbours, and eliminate any lingering hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded to the EU with a statement deploring that Borrell “opts to see the relations between Israel and the European Union” solely through the “status of the territories.”

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

Over 200 former senior officers in the Israel Defence Forces and Mossad implored Gantz in a public letter earlier this month not to sign on to unilateral annexation, calling it misguided in a time of pandemic, with “the potential to ignite a serious conflagration.”

“Such unilateral steps would jeopardize the peace treaty and security co-operation with Jordan, co-ordination with the Palestinian security forces and the very Jewish character of the State,” they wrote.

Israel has reported nearly 14,600 cases of COVID-19 and 191 deaths. Restrictions imposed on public life to stem the spread of the virus have forced many Israeli businesses to close and sent unemployment above 26 per cent.

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