Netanyahu vows to annex Jordan Valley 'immediately' if re-elected

Palestinian Bedouin homes are seen in the in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank

Palestinian Bedouin homes are seen in the in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated a campaign pledge Tuesday to expand Israeli sovereignty to all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if he is reelected next week, adding that the Trump administration supports the move.

Hundreds of thousands of settlers live in outposts in the West Bank, which Israel's military continues to rule, controlling the lives of more than 2.5 million Palestinians.

About 450,000 Israeli citizens live in settlements, considered illegal by most of the global community, on territory that Israel has ruled since its victory in the 1967 Israeli-Arab war. A mass annexation of parts of the West Bank would likely end any remaining hopes for establishing a viable Palestinian state. Ehud Barak, a former prime minister who is campaigning to oust Netanyahu, said the prime minister "has no public or moral mandate to determine things so fateful to the state of Israel".

"The Palestinian territory is not part of Netanyahu's election campaign", said Shtayyeh.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the annexation would be "manifestly illegal" and called on the global community to act. "I am waiting to do this in maximum coordination with Trump".

Netanyahu's plan will undermine any chances of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters after a one-day meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo.

Netanyahu earned the largest share of the vote in that contest but ultimately failed to form a governing coalition, which is why Israelis will go to the polls for the second time next week.

He added that the USA president was likely to release his long-touted Middle East peace plan soon. Unlike Israeli settlers, West Bank Palestinians are not Israeli citizens and do not have the right to vote.

The Arvot Hayarden settlement where the Jordan Valley Regional Council municipality is located in the West Bank
The Arvot Hayarden settlement where the Jordan Valley Regional Council municipality is located in the West Bank

Washington has been saying for months that it will release the political component of its highly anticipated peace plan after a government is formed following Israel's September 17 elections. "Unsafe aggression. Perpetual conflict", she wrote.

The 2,400 square kilometre valley accounts for almost 30% of the territory in the West Bank.

Ahead of April elections, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

"It's an election stunt and not a very impressive one because it's so transparent", Yair Lapid, co-leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, said in a statement about Netanyahu's plan.

He is again facing a hard challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White alliance.

The 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 captured the West Bank in a 1967 war.

He said the plan was being drafted in coordination with the Trump administration, which is expected to release its long-awaited Middle East peace plan sometime after Israel's September 17 election.

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