Cheering Trump plan, Netanyahu says he will start annexation process Sunday
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'Tel Aviv will be treated like Itamar'

Cheering Trump plan, Netanyahu says he will start annexation process Sunday

Briefing reporters after White House released peace proposal, PM hails ‘a revolutionary change from previous peace proposals’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump, right, looks over to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020. (AP/Susan Walsh)
US President Donald Trump, right, looks over to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020. (AP/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring his plan to annex the Jordan Valley and all settlements in the West Bank to a vote during next week’s cabinet meeting, he told reporters Tuesday, as he feted the White House’s newly released peace proposal.

“This plan is a historical breakthrough with many achievements that we never thought possible, including the immediate American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea [area], which means that Israel will once and for all establish its eastern border,” he claimed.

Speaking to Israeli journalists in the Blair House, the White House’s official guest residence, Netanyahu said he would start working on pushing annexation at a cabinet meeting Sunday.

But under indictment and running the government in a caretaker capacity, it remained unclear whether he can legally push through as significant a measure as redrawing Israel’s borders. His main rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party said it would only support implementing the contours of the plan after the March 2 election.

Netanyahu said the blueprint provides for the immediate American recognition of Israel’s right to sovereignty in the entire Jordan Valley and all settlements. “All settlements — it’s all inclusive,” he stressed. He said illegal outposts would also be annexed.

“Tel Aviv will be treated like Itamar,” he said, referring to a settlement south of Nablus, deep inside the West Bank.

The entrance to the Itamar settlement, outside Nablus, in the northern West Bank on May 19, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

“No one is going to be uprooted from his home,” he said.

Furthermore, all previous restrictions on settlement expansions will be lifted, Netanyahu said. “Until now, we coordinated the building with the US. We will no longer have to do that, because all the settlements will be under our sovereignty.”

“Someone joked that now there will be a real [building] freeze because the area will now be part of the State of Israel,” the prime minister said, referring to the notorious bureaucracy Israeli homeowners face.

He said the US had agreed to Israel’s immediate annexation of “additional areas” of the West Bank, that are adjacent to the settlements. However, he said that Israel will apply sovereignty there not immediately, but during a second phase at a yet-undetermined time.

“We need to do some work to define exactly [what we will annex],” he said.

A picture taken on November 19, 2019 shows a new housing construction site in the Israeli settlement of Elazar, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem south of Jerusalem, in the West Bank. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

“Over the years, the international community said it would apply crippling sanctions on Israel in the [UN] Security Council if Israel annexed even a tiny part of the territory,” the prime minister said. The green light he received now from US President Donald Trump provides “protection” from such sanctions, he added, referring to the fact that the US can veto any resolution at the Security Council.

“Everyone says they want to annex. You can talk a lot, you can make many declarations, but you can only really do it if you take care of the international arena,” he said in an apparent swipe at his political rivals on the far-right who have long called for the government to apply sovereignty over the West Bank.

The military regime that was in place in the West Bank since Israel captured the area in the 1967 Six Day War will be “annulled,” Netanyahu said.

While the plan calls for a two-state solution, an Israeli official described the resulting Palestinian state as “restricted and limited.”

Israel will retain security control over the entire West Bank, Netanyahu said, even in the case that the Palestinians agree to all the terms of the deal and a Palestinian state is established on what amounts to about 70% of the West Bank, plus parts in what is now Israel.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers stand by as masked Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinian protesters (unseen) during a demonstration against construction on an Israeli outpost near the Palestinian village of Turmusaya and the settlement of Shilo, north of Ramallah in the West Bank, on October 17, 2019. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Though the plan calls for cutting off some parts of East Jerusalem beyond the security barrier and making them the Palestinian capital, Netanyahu celebrated the fact that “the Trump plan buries the idea of dividing Jerusalem,” he said.

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020

“The Trump plan buries the notion of a return to the 1967 lines. It buries the idea of a Palestinian right of return — not even one refugee will enter Israel,” he stressed.

Netanyahu said that under Trump’s plan the Palestinians will have to disarm Hamas, demilitarize Gaza, recognize Israel as the Jewish state and accept Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and 30% of the West Bank before they are granted statehood.

They also have to stop paying salaries to terrorists and their families, cease “incitement against Israel,” withdraw all complaints against Israel at the International Criminal Court and must not join any international organizations without Israel’s agreement, Netanyahu said.

“This is a revolutionary change from previous peace proposals,” he said. “Instead of pressuring Israel into making concessions, the US is now making demands of the Palestinians.”

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