'All that, I want to do together with President Trump'

Netanyahu: After Jordan Valley and settlements, I’ll annex other ‘vital areas’

Prime minister says moves to be done in coordination with President Trump and argues, in election pitch, that he is only one capable of negotiating with US leader

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, in the Jordan Valley on September 15, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, in the Jordan Valley on September 15, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that if reelected he plans to annex additional “vital” parts of the West Bank beyond the Jordan Valley and the major settlement blocs, and do so in coordination with the United States.

Netanyahu, who is campaigning ahead of Tuesday’s election, thus widened his pledge from last week to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley — about a quarter of the West Bank — as soon as he puts together a coalition if successful in the elections, and subsequently to annex all West Bank settlements in coordination with the Trump Administration.

Speaking to Army Radio, Netanyahu vowed to also apply Israeli sovereignty to “vital areas” outside the settlement blocs, but did not elaborate. He also spoke of a phased process of annexations coordinated with the Trump administration.

In the interview, Netanyahu was asked about a map published earlier in the day by right-wing Yamina candidate Naftali Bennett, that Bennett claimed was the long-delayed Trump peace plan’s scheme for dividing the West Bank between Israel and the Palestinians. His party later acknowledged it had “compiled” the map itself based on various reports.

A map of the West Bank that purports to show the final arrangement proposed by the Trump peace plan, with Israeli-controlled areas in blue and white, and a Palestinian state in black. (Facebook screen capture)

The alleged plan, shared by Bennett on Facebook together with a map, shows what the Yamina candidate called “islands” of Israeli control surrounded by a majority of the West Bank set aside for a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu called that map “fake news,” noting that the US administration had made plain that the map was not its own. He said he did not have his own map as he was waiting for the release of the Trump plan after the elections. (Yamina subsequently acknowledged that the map was “based on compiled statements by the prime minister, the US administration, and former minister Bennett’s knowledge of the negotiations.”)

“The question of who will ensure the future of Jewish settlement is clear,” Netanyahu said. “Who will be able to negotiate with President Trump? The other (candidates) won’t be able to stand against US pressure,” he said, noting he withstood “immense pressure” from the Clinton and Obama administrations to halt settlement construction.

“This is a historic opportunity, because after the epic holding battle I led against pressures to return to the ’67 lines,  I am now turning the direction of our history,” Netanyahu vowed. “Instead of  withdrawals, evacuations and concessions, we are now turning toward recognition and rights.”

Netanyahu has had his call to annex the Jordan Valley panned as an election ploy, with critics saying he could have done it at any time in recent years if he really wanted to.

But the prime minister said the timing was part of a process.

“There are stages that have to happen,” Netanyahu said. “I caused them (the Trump administration) to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, after that to move the embassy there and then recognize our sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

“And now after immense diplomatic efforts, I am laying the groundwork for applying Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley as our eastern defensive wall, and after that, over all the settlements, and over other vital areas, inside the (settlement) blocs and outside the blocs,” Netanyahu said. “And all that, I want to do together with President Trump.”

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)

“This will finally determine our eastern border,” Netanyahu said. “There is no map, I’m waiting for President Trump after the elections.”

His comments come after the cabinet approved a proposal on Sunday to begin legalizing a wildcat outpost in the Jordan Valley after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rescinded his opposition to the plan.

Mandelblit had initially argued that the plan was being advanced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of “electoral considerations.”

Shortly before the vote to begin legalizing Mevo’ot Yeriho, the cabinet meeting paused for Mandelblit to hold a last-minute consultation with Netanyahu and national security adviser Meir Ben Shabbat.

During that conversation, Mandelblit was made privy to “recent developments in policy along with the prime minister’s and national security adviser’s assessment that there is urgency in the decision to establish the settlement by the government at this time,” a statement from the attorney general’s office said, without specifying what that information was.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Jordan Valley Regional Council on September 15, 2019 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

A source with knowledge of their conversation said Netanyahu told the attorney general that Trump’s peace plan will likely put such outposts at risk for evacuation and that the government must act immediately to legalize Mevo’ot Yeriho and “combat” the plan before it is introduced, ostensibly shortly after Tuesday’s election.

Mandelblit subsequently agreed to rescind his opposition to the proposal. On Thursday, the attorney general issued a legal opinion saying that it had been drawn up based on “electoral considerations” and that while the government has a right to advance decisions to strengthen Israeli settlement in the West Bank, “during an election period, the outgoing government is obliged to act with restraint when it comes to the decisions taken and the allocation of resources.”

While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state and illegal outposts built without permits, often on private Palestinian land.

Separately, during the cabinet meeting Netanyahu updated ministers on his appointment of a team led by Prime Minister’s Office director Ronen Peretz that will be responsible for formulating the plan to annex the Jordan Valley.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points at a map of the Jordan Valley as he gives a statement, promising to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Netanyahu said his plan to apply Israeli sovereignty over all West Bank settlements will “come up” as part of the upcoming US peace initiative.

Netanyahu’s annexation plans have sparked a cascade of international condemnations. Critics say it could inflame the Middle East and eliminate any remaining Palestinian hope of establishing a state.

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