Middle East UN chief hopes Israel decides against West Bank annexation

UN chief hopes Israel decides against West Bank annexation

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed hope Tuesday that Israel will hear global calls and will not go ahead with annexation of parts of the West Bank, which would undermine a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The U.N. chief said in an interview with The Associated Press that the United Nations has been consistently conveying the message “that annexation would be not only against international law but it would be a major factor to destabilize the region.”

He spoke ahead of a high-level U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday morning on the Mideast where Israel’s plans to annex around 30% of the West Bank in line with President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan is certain to be a major topic.

Guterres will speak before briefings from Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov. France, which holds the council presidency this month, said half a dozen foreign ministers are expected to take part, along with the Palestinian foreign minister and Israel’s U.N. ambassador.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and has built dozens of settlements that are now home to nearly 500,000 Israelis, but it never formally claimed it as an Israeli territory due to stiff international opposition.

The Palestinians, with wide international backing, seek the territory as the heartland of their future independent state. Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal under international law.

The Trump administration has taken a much softer line toward Israeli settlements than its predecessors. With Trump’s reelection prospects uncertain this November, Israeli hard-liners have urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move ahead with annexation quickly. The Israeli leader’s new coalition deal includes an official clause allowing him to present his annexation plan to the government starting July 1.

Such a unilateral move would all but dash Palestinian hopes of establishing a viable independent state and is vehemently opposed by the Palestinians, Arab nations and most of the rest of the world.

Guterres said annexation “would undermine what I believe is necessary, which is a two-state solution in which Israelis and the Palestinians can live together in peace, respect each other, and guarantee each other’s security.”

“I hope that this voice of reason that is not only mine, it is echoing across the world, will be heard by the Israeli authorities and that annexation does not take place on July 1,” he said.

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