The top human rights official for the United Nations on Monday added her voice to a growing chorus of international leaders and rights advocates demanding that Israel reverse its plan to annex large portions of the occupied West Bank, calling the proposal "illegal" and one that will create long-lasting "shockwaves" in the region.
"Annexation is illegal. Period,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government plans to begin implementing its plan to annex 30% of the West Bank on July 1. The plan includes seizing parts of the Jordan Valley, home to about 65,000 Palestinians, and would extend full Israeli control over more than 200 Jewish settlements in the region.
"I am deeply concerned that even the most minimalist form of annexation would lead to increased violence and loss of life, as walls are erected, security forces deployed and the two populations brought into closer proximity."
—Michelle Bachelet, U.N. Human Rights Chief
Denounced by legal experts and human rights advocates as a gross violation of international law, the proposal is in line with the map put forward by the Trump administration when it released what critics called "not a peace plan" for the region in January.
President Donald Trump's top national security advisors were reportedly still determining late last week whether to buck the international community and support the illegal plan; last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "The Israeli government will decide on the matter."
Bachelet emphasized that even a plan to annex far less of the territory would be against international law and would likely carry "disastrous" consequences for the rights of Palestinians and the whole region.
"Any annexation, whether it is 30% of the West Bank, or 5%," said Bachelet, is illegal. "I am deeply concerned that even the most minimalist form of annexation would lead to increased violence and loss of life, as walls are erected, security forces deployed and the two populations brought into closer proximity."
Israeli forces already restrict the movement of Palestinians, and Bachelet raised alarm that such rights violations would "almost certainly increase substantially as Palestinian population centers become enclaves."
Palestinians living in the enclaves would likely "experience greater difficulty accessing essential services like education and [healthcare], and humanitarian access may also be hindered" while "forcible transfer" would be a major risk for Palestinian families, said Bachelet.
Earlier this month, 47 top human rights experts at the U.N. compared the annexation to a "Palestinian Bantustan," referring to the area where black South Africans were forced to live during apartheid in that country.
Bachelet pointed out that a number of Israeli experts who formerly worked in the country's military, diplomatic, and intelligence agencies have warned that unilateral annexation would pose a grave risk to security in the Middle East.
"I urge Israel to listen to its own former senior officials and generals, as well as to the multitude of voices around the world, warning it not to proceed along this dangerous path," said Bachelet.
Other groups that have recently spoken out forcefully against the annexation plan include Oxfam, Refugees International, and the Alliance for Middle East Peace, as well as 250 South African leaders. Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said 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."