The UN’s human rights chief said that Israel’s plan to begin annexing parts of the West Bank would have “disastrous” consequences for the region, issuing her dire warning as senior US and Israeli officials were meeting in Jerusalem trying to finalise the move.
The warning by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, added to the growing chorus of international voices urging Israel not to carry out its plan.
The UN 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,” Ms Bachelet said on Monday 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 Mr 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 US presidential election in November.
In a speech to evangelical Christian supporters of Israel late Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said Mr 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 recognises the reality on the ground,” he said.
Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partner, defence minister and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz, however, has appeared to be more cautious.
Both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz were meeting with White House envoy Avi Berkowitz and the US 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.
Mr Gantz was quoted by Israeli media as saying that Mr 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 Mr 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, Ms 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 centres 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 toIsrael, as well as to the Palestinians,” Ms Bachelet warned.
“However there is still time to reverse this decision.”