UNITED NATIONS            -       Israel’s plans to annex a swathe of occupied Palestinian territory are "illegal", according to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet,  who warned that such a move would have a disastrous impact on the rights of people across the region.

“Any annexation. Whether it is 30 percent of the West Bank, or 5 percent. 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,” the rights chief added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last month that his government would formally annex the Jordan Valley and all settlement blocs in the West Bank.The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is seen as occupied territory under international law, making all Jewish settlements there -- as well as the planned annexation -- illegal.

“The precise consequences of annexation cannot be predicted,” Bachelet said. “But they are likely to be disastrous for the Palestinians, for Israel itself, and for the wider region. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has called on the Israeli Government to abandon its annexation plans, and I back that call one hundred percent.”

“As many others have noted, any attempt to annex any part of the occupied Palestinian territory will not only seriously damage efforts to achieve lasting peace in the region, it is likely to entrench, perpetuate and further heighten serious human rights violations that have characterized the conflict for decades,” Bachelet said.

Restrictions on the right to freedom of movement would almost certainly increase substantially as Palestinian population centers become enclaves, she pointed out. Significant tracts of private land could be illegally expropriated, and even where this does not occur, many Palestinians may not be able to access and cultivate their own lands. Palestinians living within the annexed zone would experience greater difficulty accessing essential services like education and health, and humanitarian access may also be hindered.

Bachelet said Palestinians would come under even heavier pressure to move out of the annexed zone, and entire communities that are currently not recognized under Israel’s planning regime would be at high risk of forcible transfer. Palestinians outside the annexed zone risk seeing their access to natural resources cut off, their opportunity for natural growth removed, and even their ability to leave and return to their own country severely restricted.

Settlements – already a clear violation of international law – will almost certainly expand, increasing the existing friction between the two communities, she added.

This is a highly combustible mix,” Bachelet said. “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. The existing two-tier system of law in the same territory will become embedded, with devastating impacts on the lives of Palestinians who have little or no access to legal remedy,” she added.

The high commissioner warned that illegal annexation “will not change the obligations of Israel as occupying power towards the occupied population under international humanitarian or human rights law. Instead, it will grievously harm the prospect of a two-state solution, undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations, and perpetuate the serious existing human rights and international humanitarian law violations we witness today.”

“The shockwaves of annexation will last for decades, and will be extremely damaging to Israel, as well as to the Palestinians,” Bachelet warned. “However there is still time to reverse this decision.”