Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Tuesday that Israel would “apply its laws to the Jordan Valley and all settlements in Judea and Samaria,” signaling he would not wait for an actual peace deal to begin annexing areas of the West Bank.
Netanyahu made the pledge standing next to US President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House during the US administration’s unveiling of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
The Prime Minister touted the plan as “good for Israel and good for peace,” though it includes the creation of a Palestinian state opposed by much of his right-wing base. He promised to abide by the Trump plan, including its stipulation that Israel not build in areas designated for a future Palestinian state under the scheme.
For at least the next four years, Israel will maintain the status quo “in areas that your plan does not designate as being part of Israel in the future,” Netanyahu told the US president. “Israel will preserve the possibility for peace.”
“At the same time Israel will apply its laws to the Jordan Valley, to all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and to other areas that your plan designates as part of Israel and which the United States has agreed to recognize as part of Israel.”
“You have been the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House,” he enthused.
He went on to praise the plan at length, offering six points in its favor in a speech that seemed geared to the Israeli audience back home.
“Your peace plan…addresses the root cause of the conflict by insisting that the Palestinians will finally have to recognize Israel as the Jewish state,” he said.
“Second, it stipulates that Israel will retain security control on the entire area west of the Jordan River, thereby giving Israel a permanent eastern border to defend ourselves across our longest border. Third, your plan calls for Hamas to be disarmed and Gaza to be demilitarized. Fourth, it makes clear that the Palestinian refugee problem must be solved outside the state of Israel. Fifth, it calls for our ancient capital, Jerusalem, to remain united under Israel sovereignty. Sixth, your plan does not uproot anyone from their homes, Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Trump’s plan calls for the creation of a State of Palestine with its capital in portions of East Jerusalem, ending speculation as to whether his administration, in preparing a proposal without input from Palestinian leaders, would abandon a two-state solution to the conflict.
Under the terms of the “peace vision” the future Palestinian state would consist of the West Bank and Gaza, connected by a combination of above-ground roads and tunnels. The Palestinian areas would be formed around settlements, both those in blocs and more isolated areas, which would also be connected by slivers of land.
Palestinians rejected the plan before it was rolled out as one-sided in favor of Israel. Settler leaders also indicated they would not accept a plan that allowed the creation of a Palestinian state.
According to Hebrew media reports quoting the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu plans on beginning the process of annexing all settlements and Jordan Valley areas as early as Sunday’s cabinet meeting. The prime minister later confirmed this in a briefing with Israeli reporters.
Netanyahu said Trump’s plan was “puncturing [the] big lie” that Israel is illegally occupying the historic homeland of the Jewish people.
“You are recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over all the Jewish communities, large and small alike,” he said.
He added that past peace plans failed because they “tried to pressure Israel to withdraw from vital territory like the Jordan Valley.”
But Trump “recognized that Israel must have sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and other strategic areas in Judea and Samaria.”
“Because of this historic recognition, and because your peace plan strikes the right balance where others have failed, I’ve agreed to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of your peace plan. It’s a great plan for Israel. It’s a great plan for peace,” Netanyahu said.
It was also a great plan for Palestinians, he insisted, even if it takes Palestinian leaders “a long time” to recognize it.
“Your peace plan offers the Palestinian a pathway to a future state. I know it may take them a very long time to reach the end of that path. It may even take them a long time to get to the beginning of that path. But if they’re genuinely prepared to make peace with the Jewish state and abide by the conditions you propose in your plan, Israel will be there, will be ready to negotiate peace right away,” he vowed.
The prime minister also welcomed the presence of envoys from Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, who came to hear the American and Israeli leaders deliver their comments on the newly released plan.
He said the occasion reminded him of May 14, 1948, the day Israel declared independence, when US President Harry Truman became the first world leader to recognize the State of Israel.
“I believe that down the decades and perhaps down the centuries we will also remember January 28, 2020, because on this day you became the first world leader to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over areas in Judea and Samaria that are vital to our security and central to our heritage.”
He said Trump has “charted a brilliant future for Israelis, Palestinians and the region by presenting a realistic path to a durable peace.”
And turning to presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, a key architect of the plan, Netanyahu said: “The Jewish state owes you, and it owes President Trump an eternal debt of gratitude.”
AP contributed to this report.