In election pitch, Netanyahu vows to annex Jordan Valley right away if reelected

PM says ‘diplomatic conditions have ripened’ for move ‘immediately’; pledges to later apply sovereignty to all West Bank settlements, but with ‘maximum coordination’ with US

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a map of the Jordan Valley, vowing to extend Israeli sovereignty there if reelected, during a speech in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a map of the Jordan Valley, vowing to extend Israeli sovereignty there if reelected, during a speech in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Tuesday to quickly apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley if he is able to scrap together a new government after national elections next week.

In a campaign speech billed by his Likud party as a “dramatic announcement,” Netanyahu also repeated his vow from before elections in April to extend sovereignty to West Bank settlements, but said he would do so with “maximum coordination” with the United States.

The premier prefaced his promise to apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, almost a quarter of the West Bank, and his call to the electorate to give him the votes to do so, by saying “diplomatic conditions have ripened” for the move, but did not provide any specifics.

“There is one place where we can apply Israeli sovereignty immediately after the elections,” Netanyahu said, speaking with a map of the Jordan Valley on an easel next to him. “If I receive from you, citizens of Israel, a clear mandate to do so… today I announce my intention to apply, with the formation of the next government, Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.”

“This is the eastern shield that ensures that we will never return to being a country with a width of a few kilometers,” Netanyahu said of the area.

A map presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 10, 2019, showing areas of the Jordan Valley he promises to annex immediately after the September 17 elections. (Courtesy)

The prime minister then turned to a map of the Jordan Valley, which included areas highlighted in blue that would come under Israeli sovereignty according to his plan. Netanyahu said these areas had been determined by the security establishment.

“This map guarantees strategic depth to Israel,” he said. “It defines our eastern border.”

Around 10,000 settlers live in some 30 communities included in the area over which Netanyahu indicated Israel would apply sovereignty. The Israeli sovereign area would encircle but not include the Palestinian city of Jericho and the town al-Auja, nor six other Palestinian communities highlighted on the map that are scattered throughout the area, he indicated. Netanyahu said the communities would have access roads leading both east and west.

Jericho and al-Auja are situated in Area A, which under the Oslo accords is under Palestinian Authority civil and security control. The other six communities are in Area B, which is split between PA civil control and Israeli security control.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, some 4,391 Palestinians live in 47 unrecognized villages located within the area on the map where Netanyahu said Israel would apply sovereignty. Those areas, colored blue on his map, are currently categorized as Area C, where Israel maintains full civil and security control.

Despite the presence of these Palestinians, Netanyahu claimed his proposal would not involve the annexation of any Palestinians, but did not specify what would be the status of Palestinians living there. “It doesn’t annex a single Palestinian, not even one,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu’s promise to apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, a move tantamount to annexation, was condemned by the Palestinians, who view the area as part of their future state.

“Netanyahu’s cheap pandering to his extremist racist base exposes his real political agenda of superimposing ‘greater Israel’ over all of historical Palestine & carrying out an ethnic cleansing agenda,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, wrote on Twitter. “All bets are off! Dangerous aggression. Perpetual conflict.”

In comments to the AFP news agency, she said Israel’s application of sovereignty over the Jordan Valley would be a “total game changer.”

“He is not only destroying the two-state solution, he is destroying all chances of peace,” she said.

David Elhayahi, the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, lauded Netanyahu for the campaign pledge. Other pro-settlement figures also praised the premier, though the right-wing Yamina alliance and others branded the move as pre-election “spin.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), US National Security Advisor John Bolton (C) and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tour the Jordan Valley on June 23, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Earlier in his speech, Netanyahu repeated his recent remark that US President Donald Trump’s peace plan would be released “immediately” after the September 17 elections.

“This is a historic chance, a one-time window of opportunity, to apply Israeli sovereignty over our communities in Judea and Samaria and also additional areas with great importance to our security, heritage and future,” he said.

After denouncing his political rivals, Netanyahu touted his personal ties with Trump and other world leaders, which he said would allow Israel “to guarantee settlement in the heart of our homeland” and Israeli security interests. He suggested, however, he would not do so without Trump’s support.

“Out of respect for President Trump and out of great faith in our friendship, I’ll wait before applying sovereignty over settlements until the presentation of the diplomatic plan of the [US] president,” he said.

“As much as is possible, I want to apply sovereignty over settlements and other areas in maximum coordination with the US,” Netanyahu added.

US President Donald Trump, left, welcomes visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Following Netanyahu’s speech, a Trump administration official said there was no change in US 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 official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Before elections on April 9, Netanyahu issued a similar promise to apply Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements if he were to head the next government. However, Netanyahu came up one seat short needed for a ruling majority and rather than letting another lawmaker get a crack at forming a government, he pushed through a vote to dissolve the Knesset and call fresh elections.

Recent polls show that together with ultra-Orthodox and national religious parties, which strongly support applying Israeli sovereignty to large areas of the West Bank, Netanyahu will again lack a majority to put together a right-wing government.

Raphael Ahren and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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