Forty-seven United Nations experts on Tuesday called on the international community to condemn Israel's plan to begin annexing large parts of the occupied West Bank next month, specifically rebuking the United States for its encouragement of the continued violation of Palestinians' human rights.
"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," said the experts. "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."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to move forward with annexing 30% of the West Bank on July 1, including parts of the Jordan Valley, where 65,000 Palestinians live. The plan also calls for extending Israeli sovereignty over more than 235 illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territory.
"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."
—UN human rights experts
"The Israeli government will decide on the matter, on exactly when and how to do it," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a radio interview in Israel in May.
Should the annexation move forward, people in the West Bank would be left with a "Palestinian Bantustan," the experts said, referring to the area black South Africans were confined to during apartheid.
The experts—who include Michael Lynk, special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights; Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; and Obiora C. Okafor, independent expert on human rights and international solidarity—noted that the U.N. has repeatedly said the Israeli occupation since 1967 has been the source of numerous human rights violations.
While the U.N. Security Council condemned the annexations of East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Golan Heights in Syria in 1981, it "took no meaningful countermeasures to oppose Israel's actions."
"This time must be different," wrote the experts. "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."
Because the acquisition of territory by force is "inadmissible" under international law, the statement reads, "states have a duty not to recognize, aid or assist another state in any form of illegal activity, such as annexation or the creation of civilian settlements in occupied territory."
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"The lessons from the past are clear: Criticism without consequences will neither forestall annexation nor end the occupation," the human rights experts added.
For the past 53 years, they wrote, the Israeli occupation has caused violations including torture, excessive use of force, restrictions on freedom of expression, child detention, food security, and many more.
"These human rights violations would only intensify after annexation," they wrote. "The morning after annexation would be the crystallization 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."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed hope that world leaders would heed the experts' words and hold Netanyahu's government accountable should it move forward with the annexation in July.
"We welcome the statement as a reminder for the international community of its responsibilities, of the gravity of the situation and of the urgency to implement accountability measures to end the illegal colonial-settlement enterprise, including annexation, to save the prospects of peace and to support a rules-based world order," Erekat said.
In May, as the Trump administration signaled its support for the annexation plan, the group of former world leaders known as The Elders released a statement in opposition, saying, "U.S. support alone cannot deliver lasting success on the ground when the proposals announced by President Donald Trump in January have been comprehensively rejected by all strands of Palestinian leadership and Israel's neighbors."
The U.N. experts' statement was released days after British members of Parliament, led by Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, signed a letter demanding the U.K., "at the very least," end its arms trade with Israel, to halt the country's participation in "the violation of the human rights of Palestinians."
I call on the UK Government and all UK political parties to heed the Palestinian call and apply effective measures to stop Israel's illegal annexation of the occupied West Bank pic.twitter.com/1NcPr4YUqx
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) June 10, 2020
"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 U.N. Security Council in other international crises over the past 60 years," wrote the U.N. experts in their statement. "Palestinians and Israelis deserve no less."