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Elders rally resistance to Israeli annexation

An independent group of global leaders appealed to European leaders to "stand firm" against Israel’s threat to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

LONDON (AN) — An independent group of global leaders appealed to European leaders on Friday to "stand firm" against Israel’s threat to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, saying such a move would increase the risks of violence and undermine global respect for the rule of law.

Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet made any direct military and legal moves towards annexation, The Elders, a London-based group of 16 veteran politicians and diplomats led by former Irish President Mary Robinson, said the absence of any such moves "should not be taken as grounds for complacency."

Before his reelection win earlier this year, Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, campaigned on a promise to annex more than 120 settlements in the occupied West Bank. Under a coalition agreement with his defense minister, Benny Gantz, the annexation was to have begun sometime after July 1.

Netanyahu has said the annexation would be in keeping with U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan, released in January, which called for putting 30% of the West Bank under permanent Israeli control.

"Annexation of any part of the West Bank, including illegal settlement blocs, would constitute a flagrant breach of international law," The Elders, founded in 2007 by the late South African President Nelson Mandela, said in a statement.

The London-based group said it sent letters opposing the annexation to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the European Commission's president, Ursula von der Leyen, and vice president, Josep Borrell, the European Union's foreign policy chief.

"The Elders underscored the damage annexation would cause not only to any hopes of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also to global respect for the rule of law," said the group, whose deputy chairs are former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Mozambique's Graça Machel, a politician and advocate who wed Mandela after her first husband, late Mozambique President Samora Machel, died in 1986.

Any such annexation by Israel would be "fundamentally contrary to the long term interests of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples. [It] will not dampen future Palestinian demands for rights and self-determination, but destroying hopes in a two-state compromise will increase the risks of future violence in one of the most combustible areas in the world," the group said it wrote in the letter to European leaders.

Destabilizing plans

The group said it called on the E.U. leaders to consider suspending the bloc’s so-called Association Agreement with Israel if annexation does go ahead in any form, and recalled the U.K.’s "historical and abiding responsibility to the region" as the colonial power in pre-1948 Palestine. The Association Agreement, which took effect in 2000, provides the legal framework for E.U.-Israel relations.

"The Elders also reiterated their support for human rights defenders and civil society activists in Israel and Palestine, whose voices need to be protected and amplified at this challenging time," the group added. Its members also include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.

The United Nations, European Union and Arab leaders from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have warned Israel that annexing Palestinian lands in the West Bank would violate international law and escalate regional tensions. Egypt and Jordan, notably, have peace treaties with Israel.

The U.K.'s Johnson also wrote an opinion article, published on Wednesday on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, a Hebrew national daily newspaper in Israel, saying he believed as a "passionate defender of Israel" that the country's annexation plans would violate international law and compromise its own security.

A confident of Netanyahu, Israel's Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis, confirmed the annexation would not begin as planned at the start of this month because officials were still working out final details with the Trump administration, The Times of Israel reported. He said it likely would occur later in the month.

The Palestinians want to create an independent state in areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. After Trump released his plan, the U.N. Security Council in late February repeated its support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The 15-nation council, however, did not directly address Palestinian demands for control of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and for many of the more than 700,000 Israeli settlers to be removed from these areas.

"I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead,” said Johnson. “If it does, the U.K. will not recognize any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties.”