Five days after pledging to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley if he wins Tuesday’s election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene a cabinet meeting on Sunday in the Jordan Valley, where it is set to approve a new settlement in the region: Mevo’ot Yericho.
According to background information provided by the ministers prior to the meeting, the settlement at Mevo’ot Yericho began in 1999 and now numbers some 40 families, in addition to a school for girls that numbers another 40 people.
The land for what is to be a religious settlement is state land, and there is a detailed plan to build 182 housing units at the site, which is currently a neighborhood inside Kibbutz Yitav, north of Jericho.
The site, according to the background information, housed a Jewish community during the Second Temple period, and archaeological remains of a 6th century synagogue at nearby Na’aran have been excavated.
If the cabinet decides to approve the settlement, it will be over the objections of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit who wrote an opinion last week saying that there was no pressing reason to establish the community just two days before the election.
“We must be careful to separate election and party concerns, or the optics of such considerations, from actions of the leadership that make use of state funds,” he wrote.
This will be the third new settlement in Judea and Samaria to be approved by this government in the last two years, and the sixth – five of which were, like Mevo’ot Yericho, pre-existing outposts – since Netanyahu came to power in 2009.
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Netanyahu announced the move during a Knesset session last week, saying “It is a step toward the application of sovereignty,” adding that “This is the right thing to do. This is what needs to be done. This is what the people want us to do.”
On the same day of the cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will hold an extraordinary meeting in Jeddah to discuss Israel’s announcement of its intention to annex areas of the West Bank, the Turkish foreign ministry said on Saturday.
In a statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said the OIC would meet to discuss “Netanyahu’s statements on the intention to annex Jordan Valley and the illegal settlements in the West Bank by Israel.”
France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom issued a statement on Friday expressing “deep concern” at Netanyahu’s announcement of intention to annex the Jordan Valley.
“We are deeply concerned about the announcement of possible annexation of areas in the West Bank, particularly the Jordan valley and the northern portion of the Dead Sea,” the statement reads.
“This would, if implemented, constitute a serious breach of international law. France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom will continue to call on all parties to refrain from actions in contravention of international law that would imperil the viability of a two-state solution, based on the 1967 lines, and make it harder to achieve a just and lasting peace.”
The statement said that the five countries “are clear about Israel’s right to security and strongly condemn recent attacks on Israel from Gaza.”
Interestingly, the statement came in the name of those five countries, and not the whole 28-member EU. While the EU did not issue a formal condemnation, an EU spokesperson was quoted this week as saying that the EU “will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.
“The policy of settlement construction and expansion, including in East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law and its continuation, and actions taken in this context undermine the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for lasting peace,” an EU spokesperson was quoted as saying.
One Israeli diplomatic official said that, overall, the responses around the world to Netanyahu’s announcement were rather muted, attributing it in part to the fact that it came a week before the election and is viewed largely as a campaign promise.