At a news conference Tuesday, Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled a controversial new campaign pledge: If reelected in next week’s general election, the longtime Israeli prime minister said he plans to annex a significant chunk of the occupied West Bank.
“Today I announce my intention, upon forming the next government, to impose Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and the Northern Dead Sea,” Netanyahu told reporters in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, potentially staking out an official claim on roughly a third of the land in the West Bank.
The right-wing leader’s statement Tuesday clarifies and cements a pledge he issued earlier this year to “extend Israeli sovereignty” in the region. That earlier pledge also directly preceded a general election, a close vote in April that appeared to hand Netanyahu a fourth consecutive term in office but ultimately failed to give him the political support necessary to form a governing coalition.
As a result, the prime minister called for another election with unprecedented speed, prompting the Israeli Parliament to schedule a new vote for Sept. 17.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967, when it captured the territory from Jordan during the Six-Day War. Since then some 400,000 Israeli settlers have moved to the West Bank, but Israel has stopped short of outright annexation.
Most of the world considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. The U.S. calls them an impediment to a possible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Palestinian leaders didn’t wait long to condemn Netanyahu’s announcement. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that if Netanyahu moves forward with his plan, he would consider all agreements signed with the Israeli government to be void.
“We have the right to defend our rights and achieve our goals by all available means, regardless of the consequences, as Netanyahu’s decisions contradict with United Nations resolutions and international law,” Abbas declared in a statement released by Wafa, a government-run news agency.
The Arab League, meanwhile, convened an emergency session after the announcement and later described Netanyahu’s campaign pledge as “a serious escalation that undermines all peace efforts.”
“Killing all chances for peace for electoral purposes is irresponsible, dangerous,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Twitter, calling on the international community to “state it rejects such futile attempts to consolidate occupation.”
Such a stern rejection from the U.S. is unlikely.
The Trump administration, unlike its predecessor in the White House, has thus far expressed stolid support for Netanyahu. President Trump formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, another territory seized in 1967, this one from Syria. Trump also broke with decades of U.S. policy — and most of the rest of the world — to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has expressed openness to Israeli annexation of some of the West Bank.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration neither embraced nor rejected Netanyahu’s pledge, saying in a statement only that there is “no change in United States policy at this time.”
Netanyahu and his Likud Party have made a point of frequently reminding Israeli voters of his warm ties with Trump in their campaign materials, including billboards featuring the U.S. president shaking his Israeli counterpart’s hand.
And in his announcement Tuesday, Netanyahu said that Israel now enjoys a “unique, one-off opportunity” to set its eastern border.
“We haven’t had such an opportunity since the Six-Day War, and I doubt we’ll have another opportunity in the next 50 years,” he said. “Give me the power to guarantee Israel’s security. Give me the power to determine Israel’s borders.”