Ne­tanyahu pledges to an­nex a third of West Bank

Faces tight vote next week

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Raf Sanchez

• Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Tues­day he would an­nex a large swathe of the oc­cu­pied West Bank into Israel if he wins next week’s elec­tion, a move that could shat­ter any lin­ger­ing hopes of a twostate so­lu­tion to the con­flict.

The Is­raeli prime min­is­ter said that if he is re- elected next Tues­day he would move quickly to an­nex part of the Jordan Val­ley, which forms a strategic strip of land bor­der­ing Jordan and con­sti­tutes about a third of the West Bank.

The move, if it goes ahead, would fun­da­men­tally re­draw Israel’s borders and re­duce any fu­ture Pales­tinian state to an en­clave en­cir­cled by Israel.

“I be­lie ve we have a unique one- off op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing for which there is wide con­sen­sus to fi­nally cre­ate se­cure, per­ma­nent borders for the state of Israel,” Ne­tanyahu said.

“We haven’t had such an op­por­tu­nity since the Six-day War (in 1967) and I doubt we will have another op­por­tu­nity in the next 50 years.”

The an­nounce­ment was widely seen within Israel as a pre- elec­tion stunt to siphon sup­port away from far-right ri­vals who have long ad­vo­cated an­nex­a­tion of Jewish set­tle­ments in the West Bank. But many peo­ple are left won­der­ing whether he would se­ri­ously fol­low through with it.

He made prom­ises about an­nex­ing parts of the West Bank ahead of the last Is­raeli elec­tion in April and did not fol­low through. Howe ver, those pledges were not as de­tailed as his plan to take the Lower Jordan Val­ley.

Ne­tanyahu hinted that U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had given him the green light for the an­nex­a­tion but did not say so ex­plic­itly.

He said merely that “di­plo­matic con­di­tions have ripened” for an­nounc­ing the move.

Saeb Erekat, a se­nior Pales­tinian of­fi­cial, said that if Ne­tanyahu went ahead “he will have buried any chance for peace for the next 100 years. Is­raelis and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity must stop this in­san­ity.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a se­nior of­fi­cial in the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion, said on Twitter that the Is­raeli leader was out to im­pose a “greater Israel on all of his­tor­i­cal Pales­tine and ( carry) out an eth­nic cleans­ing agenda.”

“All bets are off. Dan­ger­ous ag­gres­sion. Per­pet­ual con­flict,” Ashrawi wrote.

Later at a cam­paign rally in south­ern Israel, Ne­tanyahu’s body­guards rushed him off the stage as sirens sounded warn­ing of a rocket at­tack from Gaza. He was un­hurt and sev­eral min­utes later re­turned to con­tinue his speech.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary said two rock­ets were fired from the Gaza Strip to­wards Ash­dod, where the cam­paign event was held, and another port city, Ashkelon, just to the south, and were in­ter­cepted by the Iron Dome anti-mis­sile sys­tem.

The Jordan Val­ley, which Pales­tini­ans seek for the east­ern perime­ter of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, stretches from the Dead Sea in the south to the Is­raeli city of Beit Shean in the north. Around 65,000 Pales­tini­ans and 11,000 Is­raeli set­tlers live in the Jordan Val­ley and north­ern Dead Sea area, ac­cord­ing to the Is­raeli hu­man rights group B’tse­lem. The main Pales­tinian city is Jeri­cho, with around 28 vil­lages and smaller Be­douin com­mu­ni­ties.

Trump has been a strong sup­porter of Ne­tanyahu and handed him a pre-elec­tion gift in March by rec­og­niz­ing Israel’s an­nex­a­tion of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau cap­tured from Syria in 1967.

When asked Tues­day whether the White House supported Ne­tanyahu’s move, a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said: “There is no change in United States pol­icy at this time.”

“We will re­lease our Vi­sion for Peace af­ter the Is­raeli elec­tion and work to de­ter­mine the best path for­ward to bring long sought se­cu­rity, op­por­tu­nity and sta­bil­ity to the re­gion.”

Ne­tanyahu has ap­peared rat­tled in the past week by Trump’s ap­par­ent will­ing­ness to meet with Has­san Rouhani, the pres­i­dent of Iran.

The U. S. pres­i­dent has said sev­eral times that he is open to such a meet­ing — which would be the first since the 1979 Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion — de­spite Ne­tanyahu’s re­peated warn­ings against ne­go­ti­at­ing with Iran.

The Is­raeli premier’s pro­posed an­nex­a­tion of the Lower Jordan Val­ley does not in­clude an­nex­ing the city of Jeri­cho, and Pales­tini­ans in the area al­ready live un­der Is­raeli se­cu­rity con­trol when they move be­tween towns.

But at a di­plo­matic level, the move could cause the rel­a­tively mod­er­ate Pales­tinian Author­ity to give up on its hopes of es­tab­lish­ing a Pales­tinian state in the West Bank and em­power more ex­treme fac­tions such as Ha­mas, which ad­vo­cates the over­all de­struc­tion of Israel.

A re­cent poll by the Israel Democ­racy In­sti­tute found that less than half of Is­raelis sup­port an­nex­ing the Jordan Val­ley even if the plan was supported by Trump.

MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP / GETTY IM­AGES

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu stands next to a map of the Jordan Val­ley as he gives a state­ment on Tues­day, pledg­ing to ap­ply Is­raeli sovereignt­y over part of West Bank’s Jordan Val­ley if re- elected.

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