UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Mideast envoy warned Thursday that Israeli moves to annex parts of the West Bank and accelerate settlement expansion, combined with the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating impact, could ignite Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “destroy any hope of peace.”
Nickolay Mladenov told the U.N. Security Council that annexation would also “constitute a serious violation of international law, deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations, and threaten efforts to advance regional peace.”
He urged Israelis and Palestinians to support U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a global cease-fire to all conflicts to tackle the pandemic.
Mladenov, who is the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, expressed hope that opportunities for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians as a result of the COVID-19 crisis “will not be undermined or destroyed if the political context between Israel and the Palestinian Authority deteriorates.”
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told the council that cooperation is already being undermined, blaming the threat of annexation.
Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival, Benny Gantz, signed a governing coalition agreement that includes a clause to advance plans to annex parts of the West Bank, including Israeli settlements, starting July 1.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — for an independent state and the removal of many of the more than 700,000 Israeli settlers from these areas.
The U.S. rolled out its long-awaited Mideast peace plan in late January calling for a disjointed Palestinian state that would turn over key parts of the West Bank to Israel. It was immediately dismissed by the Palestinians.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday when asked about the annexation agreement in the Netanyahu-Gantz deal: “That’s an Israeli decision.”
Mansour said the U.S. peace proposal and Israel’s decision to proceed with annexation “will destroy the two-state solution and entrench Israel’s military control over the Palestinian people and land.” He urged “deterrent action” be taken by the Security Council, General Assembly, parliaments, judicial bodies and other organizations to salvage prospects for peace.
Earlier Thursday, the European Union warned the incoming Israeli government that annexing parts of the occupied West Bank “would constitute a serious violation of international law.”
France’s U.N. ambassador, Nicolas de Riviere, went further, saying annexation “would not pass unchallenged and shall not be overlooked in our relationship with Israel.”
Neither Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon nor acting U.S. deputy ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet mentioned annexation in their briefings to the council, instead focusing on the fight against COVID-19 in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
Chalet said the United States “has been heartened to see signs of good will, humanity and unity between Israelis and Palestinians,” highlighting Israel’s training of four teams of Palestinian health care workers on the COVID-19 response and establishment of a control room by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to enhance coordination and communications.
She said urged the council “to help the parties choose true leadership over politics as usual, and to work together to ensure that the prospect of peace remains within reach.”
Danon said that “Israel has chosen to put aside politics” and has strengthened cooperation with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
Israel is helping fund a U.N. emergency plan, has granted permits allowing thousands of Palestinians to work in Israel and has donated large amounts of equipment to the Palestinian Authority, he said. “In the past weeks, over 600 tons of medical supplies, 25,000 tons of food and 60,000 tons of building materials have entered the Gaza Strip.”
But Danon accused the Palestinians of accepting aid while it “spreads lies and incites against Israel in the media and in official letters to the council.” including blaming Israeli soldiers for the virus.
Addressing the Palestinian ambassador, he said, “The Palestinian Authority must decide if incitement against Israel is more important than the fruitful cooperation intended to save Palestinian lives.”