Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said his plans to annex West Bank settlements after the upcoming election include the settlement of Kiryat Arba and the Jewish enclaves in Hebron.
Asked during an interview on Army Radio if these communities were included in his plan to extend Israeli sovereignty over settlements, Netanyahu said: “Of course, they’ll be part of the State of Israel.”
The Jewish community in Hebron is made up of several enclaves located deep in the heart of the largest Palestinian city. The several hundred Jews there live under heavy military guard amid tens of thousands of Palestinians.
Hebron differs from other Arab West Bank cities in that it is home to a Jewish community that, per the 1997 Hebron Agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, lives in an area under Israeli control — about 20 percent of the city, known as H2. This community has existed for hundreds of years (though with several gaps during the 20th century).
Ahead of April’s election and once again in recent days, Netanyahu vowed to extend sovereignty to all Jewish settlements in the West Bank — a move tantamount to annexation.
Last week he said he will move to extend sovereignty over the Jordan Valley immediately after forming a government, should he win the election, and on Sunday held a cabinet meeting in the area.
And in recent days he has said he will also annex additional “vital” parts of the West Bank, including areas with importance to security or to Israel’s heritage.
His statements are seen as aimed at shoring up nationalist support in Tuesday’s do-over vote.
Locked in a tight race and with legal woes hanging over him, Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival. In the final weeks of his campaign he has been doling out hard-line promises meant to draw staunchly right-wing voters to his Likud party.
Critics contend that Netanyahu’s pledges, if carried out, would inflame the Middle East and eliminate any remaining Palestinian hope of establishing a separate state. His political rivals have dismissed his talk of annexation as an election ploy, noting that he has refrained from annexing any territory during his more than a decade in power.
In response to the Israeli cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley, the PA on Sunday said it would also hold its weekly cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley on Monday, in the Palestinian village of Fasayil.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed to cancel any previous agreements with Israel if it goes ahead with the move, and Amman has warned that extending sovereignty would kill the already moribund peace process and could affect the peace treaty between the countries.
Keeping control of the Jordan Valley enjoys wide backing in Israel, where it is widely considered a key security asset because it provides a buffer zone against potential attacks from the east.
Palestinians, however, say there can be no independent state that doesn’t control the border. With annexation they would lose a fertile area, which is home to many Palestinian farms and is one of the few remaining areas of the West Bank with open space for development.