UN rights chief says Israeli annexation plan 'disastrous'
JERUSALEM-The Associated Press
The U.N.'s human rights chief on June 29 said that Israel's plan to begin annexing parts of the occupied West Bank would have "disastrous'' consequences for the region, issuing her dire warning as senior U.S. and Israeli officials were meeting in Jerusalem trying to finalize the move.
The warning by Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, added to the growing chorus of international voices urging Israel not to carry out its plan. The U.N. secretary-general, the European Union and key Arab countries have all spoken out against annexation, saying it would violate international law and all but destroy any remaining hopes of establishing a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.
"The precise consequences of annexation cannot be predicted,'' Bachelet said in a statement issued by her office in Geneva. "But they are likely to be disastrous for the Palestinians, for Israel itself, and for the wider region.''
President Donald Trump's Mideast plan, unveiled last January, envisions leaving some 30% of the West Bank under permanent Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians autonomy in the remainder of the area.
The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for a fully independent state. Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, clearing the way for Hamas militants to seize control two years later.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong supporter of Trump, has been unswayed by the international criticism. He says the supportive Trump presidency has provided a rare opportunity to redraw the Mideast map and annex Israel's scores of settlements, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley. He has pledged to move forward as soon as July 1, seeking to take action well before the U.S. presidential election in November.
In a speech to evangelical Christian supporters of Israel late on June 28, Netanyahu said Trump's plan "finally puts to rest the two-state illusion'' and would "advance peace.''
"President Trump's plan doesn't really change the reality on the ground. It recognizes the reality on the ground,'' he said.
Netanyahu's coalition partner, Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, however, has appeared to be more cautious. Both Netanyahu and Gantz were meeting with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to work on a final map outlining which areas will be annexed. The talks were continuing after a series of meetings in Washington last week ended inconclusively.
Gantz was quoted by Israeli media as saying that Netanyahu's target date of this Wednesday is not "sacred.'' The plan has also come under surprising criticism from West Bank settler leaders, who believe it does not go far enough and say that any plan that envisions even a watered-down Palestinian state must be opposed.
Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu is considering scaling back his plans and is expected to annex just a small number of settlements in a largely symbolic move.
But in her statement, Bachelet warned that even a small annexation would create a "highly combustible mix.''
She said deepening Israel's control of West Bank land would likely harm Palestinian freedom of movement, turn Palestinian population centers into "enclaves'' and clear the way for Israel to "illegally'' expropriate Palestinian land.
"The shockwaves of annexation will last for decades, and will be extremely damaging to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians,'' Bachelet warned. "However there is still time to reverse this decision.''