Israeli military officials are reportedly warning that Jordan may take drastic steps if Israel continues to push for annexation of the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, including possibly freezing a quarter-century-old peace treaty between the nations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September vowed that if reelected he would immediately annex the Jordan Valley, a swath of land linking the West Bank to Jordan that Israel views as a vital security asset, in what was widely seen as a bid to attract support from right-wing voters.
In recent days, Netanyahu has repeatedly called for a unity government to be formed so that Israel could take the step, citing a supportive US administration which recently said it doesn’t view settlements as “inconsistent with international law.”
Senior security officials have warned the prime minister that if the move is carried out, Jordan’s King Abdullah II would likely be pressed to take significant steps against Israel, including suspending ties, Israel’s Channel 12 news reported.
Jordan has already said annexation of the territory would have consequences, but has not elaborated on what they might entail. It reportedly considered downgrading its diplomatic ties with Israel over the promise, but sees the vow as an empty campaign pledge.
Netanyahu has ramped up talk of carrying out the measure in recent weeks after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in November that the US was softening its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and repudiating a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that they were “inconsistent with international law.”
Discussion on the proposed move has sparked fierce international condemnation, including the angry response from Jordan amid a nadir in ties between Amman and Jerusalem.
Last week, Abdullah said that relations between Jordan and Israel, which signed a landmark peace treaty 25 years ago, were at their worst point ever.
Recent weeks have also seen the termination of annexes in the peace treaty between Amman and Jerusalem that allowed Israeli farmers, their employees and others to easily access plots of land inside Jordan.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week threatened to cut all ties with Israel if it annexes the Jordan Valley.
Abbas has threatened in the past to cancel PA agreements with Israel, but has never actually done so. While Israel and the PA have frosty relations, the two maintain a vital security cooperation mechanism, which Abbas’s threat appeared to encompass shuttering.
Pompeo had said the United States did not necessarily consider the settlements illegal, and would defer to the judgment of Israeli courts.
The majority of settlers live in settlements that Israeli courts have judged legal.
Israel seized control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, during the 1967 Six Day War. Palestinians want the territory as land for a future state, with East Jerusalem as the capital. Before 1967, the territory was held by Jordan, which didn’t annex it but also didn’t hand it over to the Palestinians.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.