UN investigator: Israel “moving rapidly” towards West Bank annexation

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Israel is “moving rapidly” towards annexing parts of the Palestinian West Bank and tough rhetoric from Israeli politicians could presage a “dramatic” step in the coming months, United Nations investigator Michael Lynk told Mondoweiss.

Speaking by phone from Amman, the capital of Jordan, during a week-long fact-finding visit to the region, Lynk said that Israel’s settlement-building on Palestinian land was at its “highest level in recent years”.

“It’s moving much more rapidly and on the horizon is something much more dramatic,” said Lynk, the UN’s special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory.

“The public statements made by senior American diplomats in favor of the long-expressed wish by senior Israeli political leaders, including virtually every member of the Israeli cabinet, in favor of annexation of some parts of the West Bank has only gotten louder. There is a greater normalization of the concept of annexation.”

Lynk was visiting Jordan to meet Israeli and Palestinian officials and activists and to carry out research for an annual report that he will submit to the UN’s Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) later this year.

As on previous visits, the Canadian law professor was denied entry to Palestine by Israeli officials — a decision he criticized as “contrary to Israel’s obligations as a UN member to cooperate fully with experts” from the world body.

Lynk noted a “sharp rise” in the number of demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, particularly in East Jerusalem, where hundreds of residents of Sur Baher await the feared arrival of Israeli bulldozers.

Israel’s mission to the UN did not provide a comment toMondoweiss. In the past, both Israel and the United States have heavily criticized Lynk’s observations and conclusions, which are not legally binding.

Israel captured the West Bank in a war in 1967. Its settlements there are seen as illegal by most world powers. Palestinians deem the outposts, and the military presence needed to protect them as obstacles to their goal of establishing a state. Israel disputes this.

In April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank during a tight re-election campaign. Such a step is increasingly discussed by Israeli politicians.

Trump administration officials have appeared to endorse annexation. David Friedman, Washington’s ambassador to Israel, said Israel was entitled to annex at least “some” of the Palestinian West Bank.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the US embassy there, cut funding to Palestinians and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

According to Link, Israel has “already crossed the bright red line into illegality”.

“The whole point of putting settlers on occupied territory is to make those facts irreversible and to establish, with each new settlement unit, another drip of the sovereignty claim,” Lynk told Mondoweiss.

Last month, a US-led conference in Bahrain designed to raise cash for the Palestinian economy and pave a path to peace with Israel came under criticism, as no official delegation from either of the two parties attended.

Lynk predicted the US peace effort would fall apart unless the political plan, which the White House is set to release later this year, offers Palestinians a country with borders based on land seized by Israel in 1967.

“The problem has been that all of the various proposals that have been lodged over the last 25 years have, by and large, put aside this detailed peace plan based in international law,” said Lynk, who also teaches constitutional law at Western University, Ontario.

“Because of that abandonment, those plans have ended up crashing and burning, and I suspect this one will do the same.”

In the absence of a credible peace process, UN members and the European Union in particular should start cutting economic, political and cultural ties with Israel unless it starts meeting its international obligations.

“How many weeks did it take the EU to impose a comprehensive list of sanctions and withdrawals of membership for Russia in the aftermath of the 2014 occupation and annexation of Crimea? It was done extremely swiftly,” said Lynk.

“Here we have an occupation that’s passed the 52-year mark, and Israel has paid no substantial price for its prolonged occupation, annexation and defiance of international opinion with respect to settlements, the separation wall, and collective punishment.”

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) should speed up its probe into rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank and the HRC should publish a long-awaited list of firms that conduct business on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Lynk added.

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