Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign promise to annex territory further into the West Bank is likely to face international resistance, even though Netanyahu’s opponent has also backed the idea.
“I intend to extend sovereignty on all the settlements,” including “sites that have security importance or are important to Israel’s heritage,” Netanyahu said Monday morning in an interview with Israeli Army Radio.
Netanyahu, who has been in power for a decade, is fighting to retain his title in the midst of early election results Tuesday and looming corruption charges. In the last election held April 9, Netanyahu was unable to form a coalition in the Israeli parliament, leading to a historic snap election.
The day before Israelis headed to the ballot box, the prime minister appeared to try to win last-minute support by pledging to extend sovereignty on all settlements within the West Bank, including “sites that have security importance or are important to Israel’s heritage.”
Netanyahu’s toughest competition for Prime Minister is Benjamin Gantz, a former Israel Defense Forces chief of general staff who served under Netanyahu. Early results are too close to call, but either way, Gantz is in support of a move that officials in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Palestine have deemed “illegal.” Gantz has further claimed the idea for his own.
“We have made clear that the Jordan Valley is part of Israel forever. Netanyahu drafted a plan to cede the Jordan Valley in 2014,” Gantz’s Blue and White party said in a statement after Netanyahu made his promise. “We are happy that the Prime Minister has come around to adopt the Blue and White plan to recognize the Jordan valley.”
But General Amos Yaldin, a former Israeli Air Force chief of Staff, told the PBS NewsHour that he believes any attempt to annex further into the Jordan Valley and along the Dead Sea bordering Jordan would go well beyond what the international community would allow.
“The prime minister achieved two important recognitions. One is Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and then the Golan Heights as part of his own,” said Yaldin, who now runs a security think tank called the Institute for National Security Studies. “I think this is the maximum that the Americans and the international community will accept.”
World leaders immediately expressed fear that Netanyahu’s language would eliminate the possibility of reaching a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“Annexations are always detrimental to peace solutions. They do not help and therefore we do not agree,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference Tuesday with Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Nearly 200 settlements are in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians have said would be their capital if there were a two-state solution. Many countries already consider Israel’s occupation of the West Bank illegal since annexing the land from Jordan in the 1967 war.
Yaldin says Netanyahu’s promise of annexation was merely campaign rhetoric.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Yaldin said. “I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu has tried every trick, every rabbit in his hat that will help in the campaign.”