Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced plans to annex parts of the West Bank if he wins re-election next week.
Netanyahu told reporters at a press conference that, if re-elected and able to form a coalition, he would apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea.
He said he expected US President Donald Trump to present his Middle East peace plan just days after Israelis vote next Tuesday, September 17, and that in co-ordination with the US, he would also look to apply sovereignty over all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
“[The US plan] poses a great challenge for us and a great opportunity, a historic opportunity to apply sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank and other areas of importance to our heritage,” Netanyahu said.
A US administration official told CNN: “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.”
The US was informed about Netanyahu’s announcement before he made it, the official said, adding that the administration does not believe Netanyahu’s announcement will get in the way of an eventual peace settlement.
Mixed reaction to announcement
Ayman Odeh, who represents Arab Israelis in the Knesset, condemned Netanyahu’s announcement as a declaration that Israel is “effectively an apartheid state.”
In a statement, the leader of the Joint Arab List, the alliance of parties representing Arab Israeli citizens in next week’s elections, said: “Netanyahu is systematically closing the historical files, he is liquidating the Palestinian issue and eliminating the possibility of a peaceful two-state solution, that is, the possibility of peace. [This is] the implementation of the American deal of the century, and the official declaration that Israel is effectively an apartheid state.”
In a statement, Israel’s main opposition party, Blue and White, which is led by Benny Gantz, said it had always been in favor of applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley but criticized how the Prime Minister made the announcement.
“The residents of the Jordan Valley do not feature in Netanyahu’s propaganda,” the party said. “Blue and White have made clear that the Jordan Valley is a part of Israel forever.”
“Netanyahu drafted a plan to cede the Jordan Valley in 2014,” it added. “We are happy that Netanyahu has come around to adopt the Blue and White plan to recognize the Jordan Valley.”
The Jordan Valley makes up the eastern half of the West Bank and lies on low ground in the valley created by the Jordan river. Israel has always viewed it as strategically important because of its long border with Jordan to the east.
Most Israeli settlements are not located in the Jordan Valley, but on higher ground to the west of the territory.
The West Bank was captured from Jordan by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967. Most of the international community regards it as occupied territory and all Israeli settlements built on it as illegal, though Israel disputes these characterizations.