FM Ashkenazi says Israel unlikely to annex Jordan Valley — report

Public broadcaster quotes top diplomat telling associates ‘everyone understands’ the Jewish state won’t extend sovereignty over the contested area

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, June 10, 2020. (Foreign Ministry/courtesy)
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, June 10, 2020. (Foreign Ministry/courtesy)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has reportedly said that Israel will not annex the Jordan Valley under the Trump administration’s peace plan, according to a television report on Wednesday evening.

“I assume the annexation will not include the Jordan Valley. Everyone understands this,” Ashkenazi told officials in closed-door talks in recent days, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

The television report came amid rising international pressure on Israel to abandon the plan to extend its sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and West Bank settlements, in some 30 percent of the West Bank.

It’s unclear if Israel will move ahead with annexation on July 1, the date Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set to begin the process, since the United States reportedly wants the plan backed by Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and Ashkenazi — the defense and foreign ministers — who are thus far withholding the go-ahead amid intense discussions.

It has also been suggested that the plan could move ahead in stages, or eventually apply to only relatively small patches of territory.

The Jordan Valley town of Mitzpe Jericho is home to 3,500 residents. (Courtesy Aliza Pilichowski)

Ashkenazi told Kan in an official response that he’ll only back a “responsible move” made in coordination with the US and neighboring countries.

Responding to the report, Likud MK Michal Shir urged the government to go ahead with the annexation of the Jordan Valley.

“We cannot give up on the historic opportunity to set the borders of the State of Israel,” she tweeted.

The United Nations and European and Arab powers on Wednesday warned Israel that its plans to annex Palestinian land would deal a major blow to peace but the United States offered its green light.

“Decisions about Israelis extending sovereignty to those places are decisions for the Israelis to make,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Washington.

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Benny Gantz, both wearing protective masks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool via AP)

Gantz on Tuesday signaled he could back unilateral annexation of West Bank land, citing persistent refusals by the Palestinians to reach a deal with Israel, while reiterating his demand that the move not endanger Israel’s existing peace agreements.

“We won’t continue to wait for the Palestinians. If they say no forever to everything, then we’ll be forced to move forward without them,” Gantz said in a briefing to military reporters. He described the Palestinians’ ongoing rejectionism as their “deep shit” and said Israel would not get dragged into it.

Gantz laid out his conditions for annexation, vowing there would be an “organized process” in coordination with the Israel Defense Forces and other security services.

He indicated he opposed annexing territory with many Palestinians in it, and that any Palestinians in the territory to be annexed should be offered equal rights. He stressed the need for maintaining freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank. He said annexation should be coordinated with other relevant players — an apparent reference to Jordan, Egypt and others in the region.

“We won’t take Palestinians into our territory, we won’t harm human rights or the right of movement, we’ll work in coordination with regional countries and we’re in contact with them, we won’t endanger the peace agreements,” he said.

Gantz is also said to favor that any annexation take place in the context of some kind of wider offer to the Palestinians — “a carrot” along with the stick, according to a Channel 13 report Tuesday night.

Israel’s security forces have been mostly left in the dark about Netanyahu’s annexation plans, hampering their ability to plan accordingly. A television report over the weekend, however, said security officials this week will be shown maps of areas the prime minister is seeking to annex.

A convoy of cabinet ministers drives off after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held the weekly cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley, on September 15, 2019. (Amir Cohen/Pool via AP)

According to various Israeli reports, the proposals floated by Netanyahu range from only annexing a small part of the West Bank in a largely symbolic move to extending sovereignty over all settlements and the Jordan Valley.

TV news reports Tuesday night said Netanyahu is hoping to get White House approval for a first phase of annexation that would include not only one or more of the major settlement blocs such as Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel or the Etzion Bloc, but also one or more relatively “isolated” settlements, deeper in the West Bank, to “convey the message” that those more isolated settlements would also not become part of a future Palestinian entity. A planned second phase of annexation would be more extensive — in line with Netanyahu’s pledge to extend Israeli law to all 132 settlements and the Jordan Valley.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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