The United Nations on Tuesday warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his plan to annex the Jordan Valley and settlements in the West Bank if reelected would have no “international legal effect.”
Netanyahu earlier vowed to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley shortly after forming a new government and said he would move later to annex all Jewish settlements.
Such action would swallow up a substantial proportion of the West Bank territory sought by the Palestinians for their state, leaving them without significant contiguous territory.
Netanyahu issued the controversial pledge on Tuesday as he geared up for September 17 elections.
Arab leaders angrily condemned Netanyahu’s announcement, while a UN spokesman warned the step would be “devastating” to the prospects for a two-state solution.
“The secretary-general’s position has always been clear: unilateral actions are not helpful in the peace process,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“Any Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdictions and administration in the occupied West Bank is without any international legal effect,” Dujarric added.
“Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace, and the very essence of a two-state solution.”
The proposal was dismissed by many of Netanyahu’s domestic opponents as election theatrics, with some accusing him of trying to divert attention from the corruption scandals in which he is embroiled and Israel’s security challenges.
Netanyahu’s challengers accused him of playing politics. Blue and White no. 2 Yair Lapid dismissed the promise as an “an election stunt.” Ehud Barak, a former prime minister from the left-wing Democratic Camp, said the prime minister “has no public or moral mandate to determine things so fateful to the state of Israel.”
Netanyahu’s plan would hinge on a number of factors, most critically whether US President Trump would support him. But major policy pronouncements are typically coordinated with the White House ahead of time, and a muted White House reaction Tuesday indicated there might be little resistance.
US officials said Netanyahu had told them about his proposal ahead of time and that they had not raised any objections because they do not believe it would foreclose the possibility of a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
For Israel, the Jordan Valley is considered a security asset because it provides a buffer zone against potential attacks from the east. Many moderate Israelis believe Israel should retain some element of control in the area under a peace deal.
Palestinians, however, say there can be no independent state without the area, which comprises nearly a quarter of the West Bank. It is home to many Palestinian farms and also is one of the few remaining areas of the territory where the Palestinians have open space to develop.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said all agreements with Israel will be canceled if Netanyahu presses forward.
“We have the right to defend our rights and achieve our goals by all available means, whatever the results, as Netanyahu’s decisions contradict the resolutions of international legitimacy and international law,” he said.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, condemned the announcement as “a serious escalation that undermines all peace efforts,” while Turkey blasted it as “racist” and “illegal.”