Political parties and groups from across the spectrum criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to swiftly apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley if reelected as premier, dismissing the pledge as a campaign stunt.
In a campaign speech hyped by his Likud party as a “dramatic announcement,” Netanyahu called on voters to put him back in power, promising he would quickly annex the Jordan Valley and repeating his pledge to subsequently, with US cooperation, apply sovereignty to West Bank settlements.
The prime minister made an identical promise regarding the settlements ahead of elections on April 9, but was unable to put together a ruling majority and instead pushed a snap vote rather than have another lawmaker get a crack at assembling a government.
Recent polls predict that together with other religious and right-wing parties, Likud will again come up short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the 120-member Knesset.
Blue and White, which is contending with Likud to emerge from the elections as the largest party, criticized Netanyahu for not focusing on residents of Jordan Valley settlements in his speech.
The centrist party also claimed that Netanyahu cribbed the sovereignty proposal from it.
“The residents of the Jordan Valley do not feature in Netanyahu’s propaganda. Blue and White have made clear that the Jordan Valley is a part of Israel forever,” it said in a statement. “Netanyahu’s spin to the people of Israel will end on September 17.”
Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon, a former Likud lawmaker, accused Netanyahu of having been willing to demolish Jordan Valley settlements in 2014 as part of former US secretary of state John Kerry’s peace efforts. Ya’alon was defense minister at the time.
“Netanyahu understands his time has passed,” Ya’alon wrote on Twitter.
Yisrael Beytenu Avigdor Liberman, whose refusal to join Netanyahu’s proposed coalition helped precipitate fresh elections, responded to the prime minister’s speech by tweeting “dramatic announcement,” followed by two tears of joy emojis.
Yamina, a coalition of right-wing religious parties, also dismissed Netanyahu’s statement as “spin” and said only it would ensure that large swaths of the West Bank currently under Israeli control are retained.
“With regards to the Jordan Valley, we call on Netanyahu to pass a cabinet decision already this evening as was done when sovereignty was applied over Jerusalem. There is no need for legislation. We will stand behind him immediately,” it said in a statement.
“Otherwise, the entire nation of Israel will know that this was a cheap political spin meant to snarf up votes and nothing more,” the statement added.
Regavim, a pro-settlement NGO founded by Yamina minister Bezalel Smotrich, praised Netanyahu for vowing to apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and all West Bank settlements, but said the proof would be in the pudding.
“The first step toward sovereignty is law enforcement and establishing facts on the ground. Prime Minister Netanyahu: The true test will be in actions, not announcements – and it is your hands,” it said.
On the left-side of the political map, Labor MK Itzik Shmuli linked the announcement to Netanyahu’s efforts to avoid prosecution in a series of graft probes.
“In order to obtain enough mandates for immunity from prison Netanyahu will even promise to annex the moon,” Shmuli tweeted.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is running in the elections with the Democratic Camp alliance, said Netanyahu’s legal woes had deprived him of the “public and moral mandate” needed to make such a decision.
“There is a concern that [Netanyahu] will make declarations on the basis of personal interests of his political survival and not according to the national interest,” Barak said in a statement.
However, Ayman Odeh, who heads the Joint List alliance of Arab majority parties, warned Netanyahu’s vow was no mere campaign promise.
“This isn’t only election spin,” Odeh wrote on Twitter, claiming the annexation of areas of the West Bank was part of the Israel right’s “vision of apartheid.
“They don’t want to make the [West] Bank part of Israel, they want to make Israel an extension of the West Bank. A minority of Jewish citizens ruling a majority of Palestinian subjects without rights,” Odeh added.
The head of the leftish New Israel Fund said applying sovereignty to large areas of the West Bank would mean the end of Israel’s existence as a democracy.
“Netanyahu would have the world believe that there are no costs to annexation. But we know that the costs are clear and steep, and they will be borne by Israeli and Palestinian people. After annexation, Israelis will no longer live in a democracy,” Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, said in a statement.
“The time has come for all who care about the people of Israel and Palestine to choose wisely. Israelis, and those who support Israeli democracy around the world, must stand firmly against annexation,” he said.