Netanyahu: I tried to annex Jordan Valley before election but AG said I couldn’t

PM says he wanted to bring measure for Knesset approval last week, but Mandelblit informed him current caretaker government doesn’t have the authority

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement on applying Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and its Jewish settlements, at a press conference in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement on applying Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and its Jewish settlements, at a press conference in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he planned to declare immediate sovereignty over the Jordan Valley but was warned by the attorney general that he did not have the authority to do so unless or until he formed a new government after elections.

Netanyahu on Tuesday promised to quickly apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley if put back into office as he pitched voters ahead of the September 17 election.

Critics on the right dismissed the speech as an empty campaign promise, with some asserting that Netanyahu could have annexed the territory immediately via the cabinet without waiting until after the election.

But the prime minister said Wednesday that he had tried to do just that a week ago and was shot down by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who insisted such a wide-reaching move could not be made so close to the election.

“I want to act on it immediately,” Netanyahu said in a (Hebrew) video posted to Facebook. “Therefore I wanted to already bring it to the Knesset last week, [but] the attorney general said to me ‘you can’t because it is a transitional government.'”

Netanyahu said he tried to argue the point, but Mandelblit told him he needs to first get a mandate from the people to form a government.

“So here I am asking for the mandate,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said Tuesday he would also move toward annexing West Bank settlements, but was waiting for the release of the US peace plan to do it in coordination with the White House.

“The plan to apply sovereignty is not something that we thought about just recently. It was planned for months,” a senior government official told The Times of Israel. “But there were legal issues with doing anything before the elections. The attorney general said it cannot be done now due to legal constraints.”

“The Americans were fully informed about what was going to be done,” the official said. “We knew what their response would be to the prime minister’s announcement. Everything was done in coordination.”

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explaining his decisions to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, September 11, 2019. (Facebook)

A Trump administration official said after Netanyahu’s announcement Tuesday that there was no change in US policy.

“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.

A source familiar with the Trump administration’s thinking told The Times of Israel that the United States was “informed of this announcement before it was made.” Trump’s team, the source went on, said they “do not think it precludes the possibility of a political settlement in the future.”

Washington has said it will wait until after the Israeli elections on September 17 to roll out its much-awaited plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The economic part of the plan was reviewed during a June economic conference in Bahrain, though not attended by Israeli or Palestinian officials.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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