The leader of the right-wing Yamina party on Wednesday hailed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his pledge a day earlier to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, but expressed skepticism as to whether he would follow through, saying he could make it happen in a single day, with just a cabinet vote, if he wanted to.
Ayelet Shaked, a former justice minister, and her party colleague Naftali Bennett, also fretted about the potential concessions Israel would have to make in exchange for such a move as part of the Trump administration’s as-yet unveiled Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Netanyahu promised Tuesday to quickly apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley if he is able to put together a new government after the national elections next week.
“This declaration is important,” Shaked told Israel Radio on Wednesday, crediting her and Bennett’s efforts to lobby for annexation in the previous Netanyahu government with the prime minister’s change of stance and abandonment of the two-state formula. “Everyone thought we were crazy [when we first started speaking about it].”
“But this is just a declaration,” she continued. “There is no action here. [Former prime minister Menachem] Begin, when he wanted to apply sovereignty, advanced legislation in a single day in three votes to extend sovereignty to the Golan Heights,” she said.
“Applying sovereignty [to the Jordan Valley] can be done in a cabinet decision. There is no need for legislation. And if there is a diplomatic need, it can also be done by a transitional government — there is no legal impediment,” she said, indicating that Netanyahu didn’t have any need to wait until after the upcoming elections.
Israel enshrined its annexations of both East Jerusalem (in 1980) and the Golan (in 1981) in legislation, but legal scholars said there is no absolute need for a law. Rather, a simple government decision would suffice for the annexation to take effect.
Experts who spoke to The Times of Israel, however, were divided on whether a caretaker government, such as there is currently since the Knesset dissolved itself in May, would be able to take such a far-reaching step.
In the interview, Shaked also expressed concern the US administration would make demands that her party couldn’t accept as part of its peace proposal, which is expected to be released after the election, such as dividing Jerusalem or razing new settlements.
Netanyahu decided to “tell us about the carrots” in the Trump peace plan, but not “what the sticks are,” she said.
Those fears were echoed by Bennett.
“This move will likely be conditioned by the Americans on [Israel] relinquishing all of Area C with the exception of the settlements,” he told Army Radio. “Islands of Israelis in a Palestinian sea — it’s unsustainable.”
Area C, constituting some 60 percent of the West Bank, is where the majority of Israeli settlements are located.
In his statement on Tuesday, 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 such a move, but did not provide any specifics.
“There is one place where we can apply Israeli sovereignty immediately after the elections,” Netanyahu said, speaking with a map of the Jordan Valley on an easel next to him. “If I receive from you, citizens of Israel, a clear mandate to do so… today I announce my intention to apply, with the formation of the next government, Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea.”
Around 8,000 settlers live in some 30 communities included in the area over which Israel would apply sovereignty. The area would exclude but encircle the Palestinian city of Jericho and the town Al-Auja, and include six other Palestinian communities.
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.
Earlier in his speech, Netanyahu repeated his recent remark that US President Donald Trump’s peace plan would be released “immediately” after the September 17 elections.
“This is a historic chance, a one-time window of opportunity, to apply Israeli sovereignty over our communities in Judea and Samaria and also additional areas with great importance to our security, heritage and future,” he said.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.