Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex the heart of the West Bank if he wins re-election next week, a move that could inflame the Middle East.
Arab leaders angrily condemned Netanyahu’s remarks, and a UN spokesman warned the step would be “devastating” to the prospects for a two-state solution.
Netanyahu said he would extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley – an area seen as the breadbasket of any Palestinian state – shortly after forming a new government and would move later to annex other Jewish settlements.
Such action would swallow up most of the West Bank territory sought by the Palestinians, leaving them with little more than isolated enclaves.
Netanyahu said it was important to act as US President Donald Trump prepares to unveil his Mideast peace plan after the September 17 election.
“This is a historic opportunity, a one-time opportunity, to extend Israeli sovereignty on our settlements in Judea and Samaria, and also on other important regions for our security, for our heritage, and for our future,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday, using the biblical terms for the West Bank.
BREAKING: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was whisked away from a campaign rally after air raid sirens sounded. Netanyahu told the audience to remain calm as his guards led him away. https://t.co/4uahrBb169
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 10, 2019
Netanyahu was not clear about the status of the Palestinians on the West Bank.
Over 2.5 million Palestinians live there and in east Jerusalem, in addition to nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers.
Israel already has annexed east Jerusalem in a move that is not internationally recognised.
The proposal was dismissed as election theatrics by opponents, who have accused Netanyahu of trying to divert attention from a corruption scandal and Israel’s security challenges.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on Twitter called Netanyahu’s plan a “serious escalation”.
Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab states to have peace treaties with Israel.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, wrote on Twitter that the Israeli leader was out to impose a “greater Israel on all of historical Palestine and (carry) out an ethnic cleansing agenda”.
Netanyahu’s cheap pandering to his extremist racist base exposes his real political agenda of superimposing “greater Israel” on all of historical Palestine & carrying out an ethnic cleansing agenda. All bets are off! Dangerous aggression. Perpetual conflict.
— Hanan Ashrawi (@DrHananAshrawi) September 10, 2019
Later in the day he was whisked away from a campaign event in southern Israel after Palestinian militants fired rockets towards the area.
Netanyahu’s plan would hinge on a number of factors, most critically whether Trump would support him.
But major policy pronouncements are typically co-ordinated with the White House ahead of time, and a muted White House reaction indicated there would be little resistance.
US officials said Netanyahu had told them about his proposal ahead of time and that they had not raised any objections because they do not think it will affect prospects for an eventual peace agreement.