Netanyahu wants to stay in office only to annex Jordan Valley, Likud claims
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Netanyahu wants to stay in office only to annex Jordan Valley, Likud claims

Latest offer from PM’s party would see him leave post to Gantz within six months; minister says it aims to take advantage of ‘rare opportunity’ of tacit US backing for annexation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a map of the Jordan Valley, vowing to extend Israeli sovereignty there if reelected, during a speech in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks before a map of the Jordan Valley, vowing to extend Israeli sovereignty there if reelected, during a speech in Ramat Gan on September 10, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to serve as premier first in a rotational government with rival party Blue and White for only as long as it takes him to make good on a promise to annex the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, his party said Monday.

The Likud and Blue and White parties have been locked in unsuccessful unity talks with the country steadily slipping toward a third round of elections. Likud has insisted that Netanyahu go first in a rotational deal, even for only a few months, but Blue and White has stuck to its promise not to join a government led by a prime minister under indictment.

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 sees as a vital security asset, in what was widely seen in Israel as a bid to attract support from right-wing voters.

According to a report in the Israel Hayom daily on Monday, a rotational deal offered by Likud would allow Netanyahu to remain in office for six months in order to push through the annexation of Jordan Valley, after which he would step aside to fight bribery and fraud charges.

A convoy drives off after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held the weekly cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. (Amir Cohen/Pool via AP)

A Likud source told the paper, widely seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, that Blue and White would not see a better deal.

According to Israel Hayom, after Netanyahu stepped aside, Gantz would assume the premiership for a year and a half before returning the position to Likud.

Netanyahu and other Likud officials have touted the possible annexation of West Bank territories claimed by the Palestinians, citing tacit support from US President Donald Trump’s administration. Discussion of the matter has sparked fierce international condemnation, including an angry response from Jordan amid a nadir in ties between the two countries.

While Blue and White also supports annexation of the Jordan Valley, it has not said it would move ahead with it unilaterally.

Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin confirmed the Likud offer to the Kan public broadcaster.

“Understand that the process [of annexation] requires tacit agreement from the Americans. There is currently a rare opportunity that we cannot miss,” he said.

Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“There are two options. We can let Blue and White push us into elections again or we can try to reach an understanding. We are ready to go far,” he continued. “It makes no sense for Blue and White not to accept the offer — we will [regardless] continue in power for another six months if there is an election.”

Blue and White has said it was willing to form a government with Likud, but only if Netanyahu steps down as leader. The party reportedly fears Netanyahu would use his time as premier in a rotational government to push through an immunity package and avoid criminal prosecution.

Late last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that Netanyahu would be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three  cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe. However, due to the current political deadlock it will probably take several months before Mandelblit can even formally file the charges in court.

If no unity government is formed, new elections are expected to be called for sometime in March, the third in under a year.

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