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PM says he's 'convinced' Jordan won't alter peace treaty

Netanyahu: Palestinians in Israeli-annexed Jordan Valley won’t get citizenship

In interviews, PM also rebuffs settler complaints, saying his annexation plan won’t mention Palestinian state, any settlement freeze will also apply to Palestinians in Area C

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, center, and then-Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a meeting to discuss mapping extension of Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, held in the Ariel settlement, February 24, 2020. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview Thursday that Palestinians living under Israeli rule in an annexed Jordan Valley would not receive Israeli citizenship.

Palestinian towns and villages in the area will remain “Palestinian enclaves” under Palestinian rule but Israel security control, he explained.

These Palestinian residential areas, which some estimates say are home to 50,000-65,000 Palestinians, “will remain as Palestinian enclaves,” he told the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom. “You don’t annex [the Palestinian city of] Jericho [which has a population of some 20,000]. There are one or two clusters [of Palestinian residential areas] where you don’t have to extend sovereignty; [their residents] will remain Palestinian subjects, you might say, but [overall Israeli] security control will apply there.”

In a separate interview Thursday, Netanyahu dismissed fears increasingly expressed by settlers leaders regarding the US peace plan’s vision for the West Bank, saying that the mapping process is ongoing and that they were criticizing elements of the plan that still haven’t been determined and published.

Vision for Peace Conceptual Map published by the Trump Administration on January 28, 2020.

Speaking to the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper, Netanyahu said he didn’t believe Jordan would annul the peace accord if Israel goes forward with his declared plan to annex some West Bank land including the Jordan Valley, and said any settlement construction freeze as part of the Trump plan would also apply to Palestinians in Area C — which is controlled by Israel.

Netanyahu said he was committed to extending Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank in July, after a joint Israeli-US team completes a process of mapping the exact vision for the future of the territory based on a conceptual map released by US President Donald Trump’s administration earlier this year.

Many settler leaders have expressed concern about the Trump plan’s inclusion of a Palestinian state, even though it outlines many conditions for that state that are vehemently opposed by the Palestinian Authority, which has rejected the plan outright, calling it biased in favor of Israel.

They are also roiled by the fact that at first, Netanyahu had indicated that Washington would immediately recognize Israeli sovereignty in all settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley within days of the plan’s announcement, before the administration clarified that the process would take many months.

The settler leaders have drawn their own map, but that has reportedly not affected the committee’s work, leading to outcry and internal discord.

Netanyahu said the declaration of annexation will not include a word on accepting a future Palestinian state, as some on the right have feared: “The issue is separate. There isn’t supposed to be any cabinet decision on the matter.”

In his conversation with Makor Rishon, Netanyahu said the conceptual map for annexation “gave a general idea that has to be broken down into details, and that’s exactly what we’re doing at the moment. We will, of course, show it to the settlers.”

The premier repeated that the important part of the plan was the paradigm shift in which “thus far Israel was always the one that had to compromise, give up and withdraw. That was the basic idea of every peace deal we were handed. Now President Trump and his people come and change the direction. They say Israel doesn’t need to compromise, the Palestinians do.”

The Trump plan also includes a freeze for at least four years of all settlement construction outside existing settlements in Area C — which represents some 60% of the West Bank under full Israel civil and military control, where some 450,000 settlers live alongside an estimated 240,000 Palestinians.

Netanyahu told Makor Rishon that any such freeze would equally apply to “both sides,” meaning also to Palestinian construction in Area C. He said that was written down in the plan, even though the interviewer noted that it isn’t written in its publicly released parts.

Illustrative: Construction work in the Dagan neighborhood of the settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The premier dismissed concerns that some isolated settlements will remain as enclaves inside Palestinian-controlled areas, saying that settlers already commonly drive on many West Bank roads surrounded on both sides by the Palestinian Authority.

“People are talking about the plan without knowing it,” Netanyahu said. “What this plan says is that Israel and its security forces will militarily control all the territory west of the Jordan River. I stress: all the territory, with no exception. Tell me, when has there ever been such an American approach? They allowed us, at most, to conduct urgent pursuits of terrorists. Now there’s a profound paradigm shift.”

Netanyahu insinuated that those on the right rejecting the Trump plan were similar to Palestinian leaders who in the past rejected peace offers “because they wanted everything, including Jaffa and Kfar Saba.”

He also dismissed concerns that annexation would prompt strong retaliatory moves by the Palestinians and Arab and European countries. He said he was convinced the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan wouldn’t be affected, despite growing threats from Amman to annul or downgrade it.

“The peace with Jordan is a vital interest not only for the State of Israel but also for Jordan,” Netanyahu said. “I don’t think it’s going to change. However, it is natural that such moves raise concerns.”

Outside of the annexation push, Netanyahu also continued his attacks on the justice system and the media following this week’s opening of his corruption trial.

“They thought I would come to court shamed and disgraced, but I came full of grit and strength,” he boasted, referring to his fiery speech before the hearing in which he asserted that the “entire right wing” was on trial due to a conspiracy by a corrupt, leftist legal system, as well as the police and media.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem (Yonathan Sindel/POOL/AFP)

He rejected accusations that he was inciting against the law enforcement system and pushing for a civil war: “There won’t be a civil war, but there is a very fundamental debate. Criticism isn’t an attack and isn’t incitement — it is the beating heart of democracy. It cannot be that in a democracy one can’t express criticism.”

The prime minister also lambasted the International Criminal Court for moving toward opening a war crimes probe into Israel at the PA’s request.

“This is an archaic, anarchist body formed decades ago that aims to fabricate war crime convictions of IDF soldiers and the State of Israel,” he said. He added that Israel has taken action against PA President Mahmoud Abbas for filing a complaint at the court, but didn’t elaborate.

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