The agreement by the new coalition Government of Israel to annex significant parts of the occupied Palestinian West Bank after 1 July would violate a cornerstone principle of international law and must be meaningfully opposed by the international community, UN experts said today. Forty-seven of the independent Special Procedures mandates appointed by the Human Rights Council issued the following statement:
“The annexation of occupied territory is a serious violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions, and contrary to the fundamental rule affirmed many times by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly that the acquisition of territory by war or force is inadmissible. The international community has prohibited annexation precisely because it incites wars, economic devastation, political instability, systematic human rights abuses and widespread human suffering.
Israel’s stated plans for annexation would extend sovereignty over most of the Jordan Valley and all of the more than 235 illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This would amount to approximately 30 percent of the West Bank. The annexation of this territory was endorsed by the American Peace to Prosperity Plan, released in late January 2020.
The United Nations has stated on many occasions that the 53-year-old Israeli occupation is the source of profound human rights violations against the Palestinian people. These violations include land confiscation, settler violence, discriminatory planning laws, the confiscation of natural resources, home demolitions, forcible population transfer, excessive use of force and torture, labour exploitation, extensive infringements of privacy rights, restrictions on the media and freedom of expression, the targeting of women activists and journalists, the detention of children, poisoning by exposure to toxic wastes, forced evictions and displacement, economic deprivation and extreme poverty, arbitrary detention, lack of freedom of movement, food insecurity, discriminatory law enforcement and the imposition of a two-tier system of disparate political, legal, social, cultural and economic rights based on ethnicity and nationality. Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders, who peacefully bring public attention to these violations, are slandered, criminalised or labeled as terrorists. Above all, the Israeli occupation has meant the denial of the right of Palestinian self-determination.
These human rights violations would only intensify after annexation. What would be left of the West Bank would be a Palestinian Bantustan, islands of disconnected land completely surrounded by Israel and with no territorial connection to the outside world. Israel has recently promised that it will maintain permanent security control between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Thus, the morning after annexation would be the crystallisation of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st century apartheid.
Twice before, Israel has annexed occupied land – East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Syrian Golan Heights in 1981. On both occasions, the UN Security Council immediately condemned the annexations as unlawful but took no meaningful countermeasures to oppose Israel’s actions.
Similarly, the Security Council has repeatedly criticised the Israeli settlements as a flagrant violation under international law. Yet, Israel’s defiance of these resolutions and its ongoing entrenchment of the settlements has gone unanswered by the international community.
This time must be different. The international community has solemn legal and political responsibilities to defend a rules-based international order, to oppose violations of human rights and fundamental principles of international law and to give effect to its many resolutions critical of Israel’s conduct of this protracted occupation. In particular, states have a duty not to recognise, aid or assist another state in any form of illegal activity, such as annexation or the creation of civilian settlements in occupied territory. The lessons from the past are clear: Criticism without consequences will neither forestall annexation nor end the occupation.
Accountability and an end to impunity must become an immediate priority for the international community. Available to it is a broad menu of accountability measures that have been widely and successfully applied by the UN Security Council in other international crises over the past 60 years. The accountability measures that are selected must be taken in full conformity with international law, be proportionate, effective, subject to regular review, consistent with human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, and designed to undo the annexations and bring the occupation and the conflict to a just and durable conclusion. Palestinians and Israelis deserve no less.
We express great regret about the role of the United States of America in supporting and encouraging Israel’s unlawful plans for the further annexation of occupied territory. On many occasions over the past 75 years, the United States has played an important role in the advancement of global human rights. On this occasion, it should be ardently opposing the imminent breach of a fundamental principle of international law, rather than actively abetting its violation.”