One day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. government will ease its stance on Israeli settlements, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to immediately pass a decision to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up about a quarter of the West Bank, if a unity government is formed.
For Netanyahu, who campaigned that he would initiate Israeli control over West Bank settlements and the entire Jordan Valley region if reelected, the U.S. announcement, a potential boost for the prime minister, comes at a time when he has been weakened domestically by mounting legal woes and two inconclusive elections this year.
Unable to secure a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu is now waiting to see if his chief rival, Benny Gantz, the head of the centrist Blue and White party, can put together a coalition.
“I called on Benny Gantz and [head of the midsize Yisrael Beytenu party] Avigdor Liberman to form a broad unity government that would keep Israel safe and annex the Jordan Valley,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
A unity government would reportedly entail a power-sharing agreement where Netanyahu would take a leave of absence if indicted in three corruption cases and would be replaced by Gantz as prime minister.
The Attorney General of Israel is expected to announce whether he’ll charge Netanyahu in the corruption cases by early next week, The Times of Israel reported.
Netanyahu’s tweet on Tuesday included a Hebrew video where he said if a unity government is formed “the first item on the agenda, on the first day of the new government, would be to annex the Jordan Valley.”
He went on to say, “The nation and history will not forgive whoever misses this historic opportunity.”
Monday’s announcement was the latest move by the Trump administration to bolster Israel’s position and undermine Palestinian claims regarding land sought for a future state.
Pompeo essentially rejected a 1978 State Department legal opinion holding that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.” He also said the White House was reversing an Obama administration directive that allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution declaring the settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law.
Netanyahu’s tweet on Tuesday was reportedly released minutes before entering a meeting with Gantz in Jerusalem.
The international community has expressed concern that Israeli control in the West Bank would prevent a two-state solution to the longstanding conflict.
While Pompeo’s announcement is receiving praise from some Israeli officials, the international community, which overwhelmingly considers the settlements illegal, spoke out against the decision.
In a statement sent to our agency, President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini said, “The European Union’s position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory is clear and remains unchanged: all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki wrote in a statement on Monday, “The State of Palestine condemns in the strongest terms the U.S. administration’s lawless position on Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied territory of the State of Palestine, as announced by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”
When Netanyahu first pledged to begin annexing the Jordan Valley region of the West Bank in September, the announcement sparked denunciations from world leaders.
A United Nations spokesman said in September that the organization maintains that any Israeli move to control the Palestinian territory “would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace and the very essence of a two-state solution.”
The Jordan Valley makes up the eastern edge of the West Bank. Israel captured the area from Jordan, along with the rest of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 war. It has since established around 30 settlements in the Jordan Valley, which, according to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, is now home to some 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 settlers.
The Jordan Valley is considered a key security asset for Israel because it provides a buffer zone against potential attacks from the east and assures a defensive line along the country’s long frontier with Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel 25 years ago.