Netanyahu pledges to annex a third of West Bank
Faces tight vote next week
• 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.
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.