Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if he wins next week’s general election.
“Today, I announce my intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea,” Netanyahu said in a speech broadcast live on Israeli TV on Tuesday.
That step, he said, could be taken “immediately after the election if I receive a clear mandate to do so from you, the citizens of Israel”.
The Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea constitute almost 30 percent of the West Bank. Some 65,000 Palestinians and about 11,000 illegal Israeli settlers live in the area – most of which is under Israeli military control in what is referred to as Area C.
Netanyahu – who is fighting for his political life in a closely contested election – reaffirmed the pledge to annex all Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank, but said such a move would not be made before publication of a long-awaited US peace plan and consultations with President Donald Trump.
“There is no change in United States policy at this time,” a US official said when asked whether the White House supported Netanyahu’s move.
“We will release our Vision for Peace after the Israeli election and work to determine the best path forward to bring long sought security, opportunity and stability to the region.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement “all signed agreements with Israel and the obligations resulting from them would end” if Netanyahu went through with the move.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called the Israeli leader is “a prime destroyer of the peace process”.
“The Palestinian territory is not part of Netanyahu’s election campaign,” said Shtayyeh.
Arab League foreign ministers condemned Netanyahu’s plan, saying it would undermine any chance of progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The 2,400-square kilometre Jordan Valley, which Palestinians seek for the eastern perimeter of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, stretches from the Dead Sea in the south to the Israeli city of Beit Shean in the north.
Israel has long said it intends to maintain military control there under any peace agreement with the Palestinians. It captured the West Bank in a 1967 war.
Annexing settlements would likely spell the end of any lingering hopes of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Netanyahu made no mention of what he would do with the territory’s more than two million Palestinian residents.
Tamer Qarmout, from the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told Al Jazeera that Netanyahu’s announcement – if it came to fruition – would “start a new phase in this conflict and it will destroy any hopes of a two state solution”.
“The peace process is already clinically dead, this will literally end it,” he said.
Netanyahu’s announcement appeared to be aimed at shoring up support of hard-line nationalist voters. He is in a tight race and has turned to a series of dramatic announcements in recent days as part of a frantic effort to mobilise his supporters.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from West Jerusalem, noted Netanyahu made similar promises in the past, including one in April, and there was scepticism from the Israeli media.
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“When it was clear just how much of an electoral statement this was … a lot of the channels moved away from him mid-speech and started in a fairly mocking tone talking about how this was another supposedly dramatic statement,” said Fawcett.
He highlighted Haaretz writer Anshel Pfferer’s tweets posted during the Israeli prime minister’s speech.
Also worth reminding that Netanyahu made some unclear promises of annexation before the election in April, but when after the election, in the now-aborted coalition talks, the far-right tried to pin him down on those promises, he wouldn’t make any commitments.
— Anshel Pfeffer (@AnshelPfeffer) September 10, 2019
Netanyahu’s repeated annexation threats ignore the fact it would be illegal under international law and “very dangerous”, noted Qarmout.
For the international community not to address the Israeli leader’s comments sends the wrong message to all parties involved – especially the Palestinians, “who have lost a lot, paid a heavy price because of the occupation, and they don’t see anyone helping them in a sincere way”, he added.
“Endless” US support has given Netanyahu the confidence to make such bold statements, said Qarmout. “If it was not for Trump, I don’t think Netanyahu would have the courage to publicly talk about annexation.”
In 2017, Trump decided to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of US policy.
The Palestinian leadership has since declared the United States cannot be an honest peace broker in negotiations with Israel.