An­nex­a­tion plan out­lined

Is­raeli leader pledges to ex­tend sovereignt­y, first to Jor­dan Val­ley

The Dallas Morning News - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSEF FE­D­ER­MAN

JERUSALEM — Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu vowed Tues­day to an­nex the heart of the West Bank if he wins re­elec­tion next week, a move that could in­flame the Mid­dle East and di­min­ish any re­main­ing Pales­tinian hope of es­tab­lish­ing a sep­a­rate state.

Arab lead­ers con­demned Ne­tanyahu’s re­marks, and a United Na­tions spokesman warned that the step would be “dev­as­tat­ing” to the prospects for a two­state so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli­pales­tinian is­sue.

Ne­tanyahu said he would ex­tend Is­raeli sovereignt­y over the Jor­dan Val­ley — an area seen as the bread­bas­ket of any Pales­tinian state — shortly af­ter form­ing a new gov­ern­ment and would move later to an­nex other Jewish set­tle­ments.

Such ac­tion would swallow up much of the West Bank ter­ri­tory sought by the Pales­tini­ans, leav­ing them with lit­tle more than iso­lated en­claves.

Ne­tanyahu said the plan was be­ing drafted in co­or­di­na­tion with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which is ex­pected to re­lease its long­awaited Mid­dle East peace plan

some­time af­ter Israel’s Sept. 17 elec­tion.

“In re­cent months, I have led a diplo­matic ef­fort to this ef­fect, and the con­di­tions have ripened,” Ne­tanyahu said. “This is a his­toric op­por­tu­nity we may not have again.”

There has been no re­sponse from the White House to this an­nounce­ment.

The prime min­is­ter was not clear about the sta­tus of the Pales­tini­ans in the West Bank. More than 2.5 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans live there and in East Jerusalem, along with 700,000 Jewish set­tlers. Israel al­ready has an­nexed East Jerusalem in a move that is not in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized.

Close race

Opin­ion polls show Ne­tanyahu’s Likud party locked in a tight race with the Blue and White party of for­mer army chief of staff Benny Gantz. The an­nounce­ment was the lat­est in a se­ries of moves he has made in re­cent days to try to rally hard­line vot­ers.

Last week, the prime min­is­ter vis­ited the small Jewish set­tle­ment in the heart of the West Bank city of He­bron, home to roughly 200,000 Pales­tini­ans. Ad­dress­ing some of the most fer­vent Jewish set­tlers in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, he vowed that the city would never be Ju­den­rein — the Nazi term for “free of Jews.”

Ear­lier this week, in an ad­dress to English­speak­ing sup­port­ers, he cau­tioned that an elec­tion vic­tory by his op­po­nents could mean Arab cit­i­zens of Israel might serve as Cabi­net mem­bers. It was not the first time he had sought to mo­bi­lize back­ers by warning of political gains by Israel’s Arab mi­nor­ity.

Ne­tanyahu pre­vi­ously promised to an­nex West Bank set­tle­ments, be­fore na­tional elec­tions in April, though he had not ex­plic­itly men­tioned the Jor­dan Val­ley. The April vote pro­duced a dead­lock, send­ing Is­raelis back to the polls for do­over elec­tions next week.

The new pro­posal was dis­missed by op­po­nents as elec­tion the­atrics. They have ac­cused Ne­tanyahu of try­ing to di­vert at­ten­tion from a cor­rup­tion scan­dal and Israel’s se­cu­rity chal­lenges. Later in the day, he was whisked away from a cam­paign event in south­ern Israel af­ter Pales­tinian mil­i­tants fired rock­ets to­ward the area.

Ne­tanyahu’s plan would hinge on a num­ber of fac­tors, most crit­i­cally whether Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump would back him. But Trump’s team of Mideast ad­vis­ers is dom­i­nated by sup­port­ers of the set­tle­ments, and the muted reaction Tues­day from the U.S. sug­gested there would be lit­tle resistance.

U.S. of­fi­cials said Ne­tanyahu had told them about his pro­posal ahead of time and that they had not raised any ob­jec­tions be­cause they do not be­lieve it will af­fect prospects for an even­tual peace agree­ment. The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The Pales­tini­ans seek the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — ar­eas cap­tured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — as part of a fu­ture in­de­pen­dent state.

For Israel, the Jor­dan Val­ley is con­sid­ered a se­cu­rity as­set be­cause it pro­vides a buf­fer zone against po­ten­tial at­tacks from the east. Many mod­er­ate Is­raelis be­lieve Israel should re­tain some el­e­ment of con­trol in the area un­der a peace deal.

Pales­tini­ans, how­ever, say there can be no in­de­pen­dent state with­out the area, which com­prises nearly a quar­ter of the West Bank. It is home to many Pales­tinian farms and also is one of the few re­main­ing ar­eas of the ter­ri­tory where the Pales­tini­ans would have open space to de­velop.

Link to Jor­dan

Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas said all agree­ments with Israel will be can­celed if Ne­tanyahu presses for­ward.

“We have the right to de­fend our rights and achieve our goals by all avail­able means, what­ever the re­sults, as Ne­tanyahu’s de­ci­sions con­tra­dict the res­o­lu­tions of in­ter­na­tional le

giti­macy and in­ter­na­tional law,” he said.

Much of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, along with the Pales­tini­ans, con­sid­ers Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem il­le­gal.

Ne­tanyahu’s plan would turn Pales­tinian pop­u­la­tion cen­ters into en­claves that he said he would seek to link to neigh­bor­ing Jor­dan. Unlike Is­raeli set­tlers, West Bank Pales­tini­ans are not Is­raeli cit­i­zens and do not have the right to vote.

Jor­dan’s for­eign min­is­ter, Ay­man Safadi, con­demned the an­nounce­ment as “a se­ri­ous es­ca­la­tion that un­der­mines all peace ef­forts.”

At the United Na­tions, Sec­re­tary­gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res also re­jected the pro­posal.

“Such a prospect would be dev­as­tat­ing to the po­ten­tial of re­viv­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, re­gional peace and the very essence of a two­state so­lu­tion,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Du­jar­ric said.

Ne­tanyahu’s chal­lengers ac­cused him of play­ing pol­i­tics. Yair Lapid, a leader of the Blue and White party, dis­missed the an­nounce­ment as an “an elec­tion stunt.” Ehud Barak, a for­mer prime min­is­ter who is cam­paign­ing to oust Ne­tanyahu, said the prime min­is­ter “has no pub­lic or moral man­date to de­ter­mine things so fate­ful to the state of Israel.”

Dur­ing the hard­fought cam­paign, Ne­tanyahu has al­leged fraud in Arab vot­ing ar­eas and has been push­ing to place cam­eras in polling sta­tions on elec­tion day. He also claimed to have lo­cated a pre­vi­ously un­known Ira­nian nu­clear weapons fa­cil­ity, and later this week he flies to Rus­sia for a meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Oded Balilty/the As­so­ci­ated Press

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu de­scribed his plan to an­nex parts of the West Bank dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Tues­day in Tel Aviv.

Ah­mad Gharabli /Agence France­presse

The Is­raeli set­tle­ment of Maale Adu­mim is in the West Bank just out­side Jerusalem. Ne­tanyahu said Tues­day that he would first an­nex the Jor­dan River Val­ley and later an­nex set­tle­ments in other ar­eas.

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