Annexation plan outlined
Israeli leader pledges to extend sovereignty, first to Jordan Valley
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.
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.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described his plan to annex parts of the West Bank during a news conference Tuesday in Tel Aviv.
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.