Benjamin Netanyahu has announced he would annex a large swathe of the occupied West Bank into Israel if he wins next week’s election, a move that could shatter any lingering hopes of creating a future Palestinian state.
The Israeli prime minister said on Tuesday that if he is re-elected in seven days he will move quickly to annex the Jordan Valley, a strategic strip of land that borders Jordan and constitutes around a third of the West Bank.
The move, if it actually went ahead, would fundamentally redraw Israel’s borders and force the international community to ask whether there was any possibly of a Two State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I believe we have a unique one-off opportunity to do something for which there is wide consensus to finally create secure, permanent borders for the state of Israel,” Mr Netanyahu said.
“We haven’t had such an opportunity since the Six Day War and I doubt we will have another opportunity in the next 50 years.”
Mr Netanyahu’s announcement was widely seen in Israel as a pre-election stunt designed to win over Right-wing voters and many questioned whether he would seriously follow through with it.
This is just my rough map but you can see Netanyahu is proposing annexing essentially a third of the West Bank.
Very hard to see how anyone can say a Palestinian state is still possible if that happens. pic.twitter.com/jFm3ySLoWl
— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) September 10, 2019
He made promises about annexing parts of the West Bank ahead of the last Israeli election in April and did not follow through. However, those pledges were not as detailed as his plan to take the Jordan Valley.
Mr Netanyahu hinted that Donald Trump had given him the green light for the sweeping annexation but did not say so explicitly. He said merely that “diplomatic conditions have ripened” for announcing the move.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, said if Mr Netanyahu went ahead “he will have buried any chance for peace for the next 100 years. Israelis and the international community must stop this insanity”.
There was no immediate comment from the White House.
Mr Trump has been a strong supporter of Mr Netanyahu and handed him a pre-election gift in March by recognising Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria in 1967.
However, Mr Netanyahu has appeared rattled in the last week by Mr Trump’s apparent willingness to meet with Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran.
Mr Trump has said several times he is open to such a meeting – which would be the first since the 1979 Iranian Revolution – despite Mr Netanyahu’s repeated warnings against negotiating with Iran.
Mr Netanyahu’s proposed annexation of the Jordan Valley would change little in the daily lives of the tens of thousands of Palestinians who live there. The plan does not include annexing the city of Jericho and Palestinians in the area already live under Israeli security control when they move between towns.
But at a diplomatic level, the move could cause the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority to give up on its hopes of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and empower more extreme factions like Hamas, which advocates the overall destruction of Israel.
Britain and other European states might also be forced to revise their long held commitment to the formula of Two States, which they have held to since the 1990s despite the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Blue and White, the centrist party running against Mr Netanyahu, said they favoured keeping the Jordan Valley “part of Israel forever” but criticised the prime minister for using it as “propaganda” ahead of the election.
Israeli politicians of all stripes have long argued that Israel must retain security control of the Jordan Valley so that its coastal heartland could never again be attacked from the east.
A recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that less than half of Israelis supported annexing the Jordan Valley even if the plan was supported by Mr Trump.