Published:  10:58 PM, 11 September 2019

Israel’s Netanyahu faces criticism over annexation plan

Israel’s Netanyahu faces criticism over annexation plan
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu’s pre-election pledge to annex the West Bank’s Jordan Valley drew
praise from right-wing allies Wednesday, but opponents called it a desperate
bid to remain in office.

Battling to win re-election in September 17 polls, Netanyahu issued the
deeply controversial pledge on Tuesday night, drawing firm condemnation from
the Palestinians, Arab states, the United Nations and the European Union.

The prime minister said in a televised speech he would move to annex the
strategic valley, which accounts for around a third of the occupied West
Bank, if he wins the vote.

He also reiterated his intention to annex Israeli settlements in the wider
West Bank, but in coordination with US President Donald Trump, whose long-
awaited peace plan is expected to be unveiled sometime after the election.

Taken together, those moves could essentially destroy any remaining hopes
for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Any Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdictions and administration
in the occupied West Bank is without any international legal effect,” UN
spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving
negotiations, regional peace and the very essence of a two-state solution.”

An EU statement said Netanyahu’s plans would “undermine the viability of
the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”

Palestinian leaders said Netanyahu was destroying any hopes for peace,
while senior official Hanan Ashrawi said the plans were “worse than
apartheid.”

Netanyahu’s main opponents in the election, the centrist Blue and White
alliance, along with others called the announcement an obvious attempt to win
right-wing nationalist votes, which will be key for the premier’s Likud
party.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has previously spoken of the Jordan
Valley remaining under Israeli control forever, but he called Netanyahu’s
announcement an “empty declaration” that would amount to nothing.

– ‘When it wants’ –

Politicians from smaller parties on the far-right who are competing with
Netanyahu for votes called it too little and too late.

“Why talk about annexation one week before the elections when the
government can decide to apply it when it wants, and even today?” said
Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich, part of the far-right Yamina alliance in
the upcoming vote.

However the Yesha Council, an umbrella organisation for Israeli settlements
in the West Bank, said it was a “historic event.”

Netanyahu’s announcement was only the start of a tense evening.

Later Tuesday night, Netanyahu was hustled off stage at a campaign rally
when sirens warning of incoming rockets blared in the southern city of
Ashdod.

Both rockets fired from Gaza were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome air
defence system, and Netanyahu later returned to the stage after the all-
clear, saying Hamas was scared of him winning the election.

Israel later bombed Hamas positions in Gaza in response, causing no
casualties.

The Jordan Valley accounts for around one-third of the West Bank and
Israeli right-wing politicians have long viewed the strategic area as a part
of the territory they would never retreat from, seeing it as the country’s
eastern border.

Israeli settlements are located in what is known as Area C of the West
Bank, which accounts for some 60 percent of the territory, including the vast
majority of the Jordan Valley.

Netanyahu said his annexation plans would not include Palestinian cities,
such as the Jordan Valley’s Jericho, though it would be encircled by Israeli
territory.

Israel occupied the West Bank in the Six-Day War of 1967 in a move never
recognised by the international community.

Its settlements there are considered illegal under international law and
major stumbling blocks to peace as they are built on land the Palestinian see
as part of their future state.

Israel says the Jordan Valley is vital to its security.


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