Netanyahu vows to annex Jordan Valley after change in U.S. policy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a measure Tuesday to annex the Jordan Valley, taking advantage of a controversial new U.S. decision that says Israeli settlements in the West Bank are fully legal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meets Tuesday with heads of Israeli settlement authorities at the Alon Shvut settlement, in the Gush Etzion block in the occupied West Bank. Pool Photo by Menahem Kahana

Netanyahu, who’s faced with the prospect of losing his position as prime minister to opposition candidate Benny Gantz, said he will complete the inclusion of the Jordan Valley if he remains in the post. He was given Tuesday to work with Gantz to form a coalition government — an effort Netanyahu was not able to accomplish before the mandate was handed over to Gantz.

Gantz initially had a Monday deadline to form the government, but it was extended to Wednesday to allow for the meeting with Netanyahu.

If they fail to form a unity government, Israeli lawmakers will have three weeks to pass the mandate on to another candidate — or dissolve and stage another election, which would be Israel’s third inside a year.

Netanyahu’s pledge Tuesday came a day after after the Trump administration said it would no longer consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law, a change for a U.S. policy that stood for decades. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the policy has been inconsistent and has not aided Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“Use everything at your disposal to ensure that I stay as prime minister,” Netanyahu told leaders in Judea and Samaria on Tuesday. “All of America’s declarations will be meaningless if I’m not prime minister. Great things are [happening] in the background, but we are in danger of losing everything.”

Netanyahu’s Likud Party has called on Gantz’s Blue and White Party to back the move to annex the Jordan Valley. Knesset member Sharren Haskel proposed the bill weeks ago, calling it a “one-time-only” chance to take control of the land with U.S. support.

The Jordan Valley partly forms the border between Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. Israel has occupied more than 80 percent of land in the valley with settlements. About 65,000 Palestinians live in the Jordan Valley.

Rupert Colville, a representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, rebuked the U.S. policy change.

“We continue to follow the longstanding position of the United Nations that the Israeli settlements are in breach of international law,” Colville said. “A change in the policy position of one state does not modify existing international law, nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the Security Council.”

ByClyde Hughes