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 Sept. 17 election.
“In recent months, I have led a diplomatic effort to this effect, and the conditions have ripened,” Netanyahu said. “This is a historic opportunity we may not have again.”
There has been no response from the White House to this announcement.
About 450,000 Israeli citizens live in settlements, considered illegal by most of the international community, on territory that Israel has ruled since its victory in the 1967 Israeli-Arab war. Unlike East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Israel never extended its sovereignty to the West Bank. Though the settlers make up only a small portion of Israel’s voting population, they are a powerful political force.
Netanyahu, who pollsters say is running neck and neck with his main political rival, is trying to draw support from the settler community so that he can pull ahead in an election he cannot afford to lose because of his legal woes.
In his presentation, Netanyahu called on all Israeli voters to ask themselves who they preferred negotiating a peace deal with the United States — him or his rivals, former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, who leads the opposition Blue and White party.
“The residents of the Jordan Valley do not feature in Netanyahu’s propaganda,” Gantz said in a statement. “Blue and White have made clear that the Jordan Valley will be a part of Israel forever. Netanyahu drafted a plan to cede the Jordan Valley in 2014.”
Gantz also said that “the relationship between Israel and the United States is founded upon common interests and values, and it is stronger than any prime minister.”
Netanyahu’s comments drew condemnation from Palestinian leaders, with Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, calling on the international community to stop the move before it “buries any remaining prospects for peace and a viable and independent Palestinian state.”
“Israel’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley, an integral part of occupied Palestine, is manifestly illegal and merely adds to Israel’s long history of violations of international law,” Erekat, a former peace negotiator, said in a statement.
“Israel’s unprecedented culture of impunity, enabled by international inaction, is the only explanation for Mr. Netanyahu’s audacity in using annexation as an election ploy, and asking the Israeli public to facilitate yet another Israeli crime,” said Erekat, who lives in the Jordan Valley.
Netanyahu billed Tuesday’s announcement as “dramatic,” but it was essentially a repetition of promises he has made since April, when Israelis went to the polls in the first round election.
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.
As the second round approaches, Netanyahu has upped the drama quotient. In an impromptu news conference on Monday, he announced that Israel had uncovered what he alleged was another Iranian nuclear production site.
In an address to English-speaking supporters this week, he said that a victory for his left-wing opponents could mean Arab Israeli politicians serving as cabinet members.
The stakes for Netanyahu in the election could not be higher. Pending a hearing, the prime minister faces indictments in three criminal cases involving fraud, bribery and breach of trust. If he remains in power, he may be able to pass legislation that would help him evade prosecution while in office. If he loses the election, his chances for immunity from prosecution are greatly diminished.