UK warns against Israeli West Bank annexation

What happened: During yesterday’s UN Security Council briefing on the Middle East Peace Process, acting UK Deputy Permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador James Roscoe, underscored Britain’s concern regarding “reports that the new Israeli government coalition has reached an agreement which paves the way for annexation of parts of the West Bank”.

  • Roscoe reiterated the UK’s longstanding position on the Middle East peace process saying “any unilateral moves towards annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel would be damaging to efforts to restart peace negotiations and would be contrary to international law”.
  • He added that the UK continues to “support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps”.
  • While Roscoe “welcome[d] the formation of a national unity government by Israel” as a demonstration of “the need to put political differences aside in the fight against Covid-19” his concern regarding West Bank annexation was echoed by the European Union. High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell said in a statement: “The European Union reiterates that any annexation would constitute a serious violation of international law.”
  • Germany raised similar alarm over such a move, saying it “advises against the annexation of occupied Palestinian territories” while the French Ambassador to the UN warned that Israel’s annexation of the West Bank “would not pass unchallenged and shall not be overlooked in our relationship with Israel.”.
  • In his briefing to the UN Security Council yesterday, Nikolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that Israeli annexation of the West Bank would not only “constitute a serious violation of international law” but could ultimately “threaten efforts to advance regional peace”.
  • Mladenov warned that “moves to annex land and to accelerate settlement expansion, combined with the devastating impact of Covid-19 can ignite the situation and destroy any hope of peace”.

Context: The UK, EU, and UN’s warnings against Israeli annexation of the West Bank come days after Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu signed a coalition agreement for an emergency national government, which will allow the government and /or the Knesset to vote on annexation as soon as 1 July.

  • Unlike the Europeans, on Wednesday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that: “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions.”
  • In February the US and Israel set up a joint committee to work on converting the conceptual map in the Trump plan into what US Ambassador David Friedman described at the time as “a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved”.
  • According to the coalition agreement the new government will “engage in dialogue” with the international community over annexation, “with the aim of preserving security and strategic interests including regional security, preserving existing peace agreements and working towards future peace agreements”.
  • The coalition agreement will see an equal division of 32 ministers to the 53-seat Likud led bloc (Likud, Shas, UTJ, and Gesher) and the 19-seat Blue and White led bloc (Blue and White, Labour, and Derech Eretz).
  • It remains to be seen whether the right-wing Yamina party will join the governing coalition. Netanyahu indicated that he wants Yamina in the coalition. But party leader Naftali Bennett said yesterday he would like to be in the government but would not “enter government at any price” and must “decide if on balance we believe in the government and how much influence we would have”.
  • This morning the interim government is set to discuss easing more coronavirus related restrictions. Among the restrictions that could be lifted on Sunday, the government is considering opening more shops, takeaway options at restaurants, and hair salons.
  • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel stands at 14,882, while 193 patients have died. 139 patients are in serious condition, a rise of 2 per cent in the past 24 hours, including 107 in need of ventilator support, no change from Thursday morning. According to the World Health Organization, as of 22 April there have been 335 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the West Bank and Gaza with two deaths and 71 recovered cases.

Looking ahead: According to Maariv‘s Ben Caspit, Israel’s military intelligence estimated that the coronavirus crisis will last through 2021. While the impact of Covid-19 has created additional areas of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a vote on annexation could threaten such cooperation, further exacerbate the impact of the virus and tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories and significantly impact Israel’s standing in the international arena.