Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman on Saturday claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed Jordanian King Abdullah II that he would not go through with a campaign pledge to annex the Jordan Valley.
“It became clear to me a few days ago that at the same time as all the stories about annexing the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu sent a message by way of the security establishment to King Abdullah [saying], ‘Don’t worry, it’s only elections, there won’t be annexation,'” Liberman said during a culture event in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon.
Liberman, who supports annexing the Jordan Valley, did not specify when exactly the purported conversation between Netanyahu and Abdullah took place.
“A complete lie,” Netanyahu’s Likud party said in response. “[Liberman’s] ridiculous lies have crossed every line.”
Netanyahu initially pledged to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley ahead of elections in September, saying he would swiftly do so if he put together the next government. The promise was shelved, however, after the premier and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz were both unable to form a government, setting up next week’s fresh round of elections.
Abdullah said at the time that Netanyahu’s promise was “electioneering,” while warning the move would have a “major impact” on ties between Israel and Jordan if implemented.
The prime minister revived the pledge last month after his rival Gantz said he would apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley after the elections “in coordination with the international community,” urging the Blue and White leader to back such a move before the March 2 vote.
Following the rollout in January of US President Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, Netanyahu vowed to secure immediate government approval for annexing the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but was forced to back off promise after the US administration put the brakes on the move.
The Jordan Valley, where 10,000 settlers and 80,000 Palestinians reside, makes up nearly 30 percent of the West Bank.
Besides Jordan, the Palestinian Authority has also condemned Israeli calls to annex the area, which it envisions as part of a future Palestinian state.
In his remarks Saturday, Liberman also ruled out joining any government headed by Netanyahu after the elections.
“We won’t join any government that is led by Netanyahu. We’d be happy to join a Likud government without Netanyahu,” he said.
The comments appeared to narrow Netanyahu’s potential options to form a government after the elections if he doesn’t secure a majority together with his right-wing religious allies, with all other parties opposed to joining a coalition he heads.
Liberman was a former aide and political ally of Netanyahu’s, but the two fell out after the Yisrael Beytenu chief refused to join the premier’s respective government after elections in April over disagreements on issues of religion and state with Likud’s ultra-Orthodox partners, prompting the second elections in September.
Liberman on Saturday also repeated his claim that MK Amir Peretz, head of the left-wing Meretz-Gesher-Labor alliance, was secretly working with Netanyahu to secure his support for the presidency when President Reuven Rivlin’s term ends next year.
“A deal was closed in the past few days between Netanyahu and Amir Peretz on the matter of the presidency. The Labor Party doesn’t interest its chairman, only the presidency,” Liberman said.
He added: “Netanyahu needs this to fight Yisrael Beytenu and to block [Knesset Speaker] Yuli Edelstein’s path to the President’s Residence.”
The Yisrael Beytenu leader first made the claim about Peretz on Friday after the Labor-Gesher-Meretz leader said his alliance would form a minority government led by Gantz after the elections, with outside backing from Liberman and the majority Arab Joint List.
Liberman, whose right-wing secularist party is forecast to again emerge as coalition kingmaker after the elections, denied he would back such a government.
In an interview published only hours earlier Liberman said he will not back any candidate to become prime minister after next week’s election unless they meet his basic demands for a liberal Zionist government.
The Yisrael Beytenu on Wednesday rejected the possibility of joining a Gantz-headed minority government supported from outside by the Joint List, whose politicians he has long branded as “terror supporters.”
Most final opinion polls showed Likud with a slight edge over Blue and White, though neither party was predicted to secure a majority with their respective allies, potentially setting up further political gridlock.