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UN secretary general, European lawmakers call on Israel to drop annexation plan

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on Israel on Wednesday to abandon its plans to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, warning that it threatened the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“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,” Guterres told the UN Security Council.

“I call on the Israeli government to abandon its annexation plans.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is preparing to start discussions on July 1 on annexation of the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war and that Palestinians seek for a state.

Palestinians vehemently oppose the annexation plan, as do most world powers. Palestinian leaders have also completely rejected a peace proposal unveiled in January by U.S. President Donald Trump that would have seen Washington recognize Jewish settlements as part of Israel.

“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,” Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon told the council.

Senior aides to Trump began discussions on Tuesday on whether to give Netanyahu a green light for his annexation plan. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that extending Israeli sovereignty was a decision “for Israelis to make.”

“I understand that many of you have concerns,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft told the council. “At the same time, we ask that you also hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for acts they are responsible for.”

Guterres called on the Middle East quartet of mediators — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — “to take up our mandated mediation role and find a mutually agreeable framework for the parties to re-engage, without preconditions, with us and other key states.”

Guterres’s statements on the issue came on the heels of a letter made public and signed by more than 1,000 lawmakers across Europe, which stated that any Israeli move to annex parts of the West Bank would be “fatal” for Middle East peace hopes and must be prevented — if necessary with countermeasures.

Israelis hold signs in Tel Aviv on Tuesday as they protest against the goverment’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank. (Amir Levy/Getty Images)

The letter, signed by 1,080 lawmakers from 25 countries, raises parliamentary concerns about Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. The signatories said annexation would break international law.

Netanyahu’s plan is in line with Trump’s plan, which envisages Israeli sovereignty over 30 per cent of the West Bank and Palestinian statehood under strict conditions.

“Such a move [annexation] will be fatal to the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace and will challenge the most basic norms guiding international relations,” the letter said.

“Acquisition of territory by force has no place in 2020.”

Lawmakers who signed the letter included members of parliament from Hungary and the Czech Republic, two countries sympathetic to Israel and to Trump’s Jan. 28 peace plan.

Countermeasures unclear if annexation proceeds

The plan offers U.S. recognition of Israel’s settlements dotted across the West Bank, and Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014 and the Palestinians see annexation as an illegal land grab.

The European lawmakers called for “commensurate consequences” if Israel, which has more than 400,000 settlers in the West Bank, went ahead with annexation — a reference to possible economic, trade or other sanctions.

“Failure to adequately respond would encourage other states with territorial claims,” the letter said.

Netanyahu has dismissed criticism of the annexation plans. He says that extending Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank will bring peace closer once critics of the move recognize that hundreds of thousands of settlers in the area will remain under any future deal.

Internal documents and Reuters interviews with more than two dozen diplomats and officials showed there is no clear EU strategy on how to stop Israel’s plan or how to respond in a meaningful way if annexation goes ahead.

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