Sat, 21 Sep 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pre-election pledge to annex the West Bank's Jordan Valley drew praise from right-wing allies on 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.

READ | Netanyahu quits Israel election rally as rocket alert sounds

Netanyahu 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 co-ordination with US President Donald Trump, whose long-awaited peace plan is expected to be unveiled after the election.

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

'Serious violation'

"Such steps, if implemented, would constitute a serious violation of international law," UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

"They would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations and regional peace, while severely undermining the viability of the two-State solution."

An EU statement echoed the UN objection, adding that the plan was a threat to "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".

Jordan's house speaker, Atef al-Tarawneh, said Netanyahu's pledge could put the 1994 peace treaty between the two neighbours "at stake".

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.

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?" asked Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich, part of the far-right Yamina alliance in the upcoming vote.

'Historic event'

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

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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