Israel's Netanyahu announces post-election plan to annex West Bank's Jordan Valley
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention on Tuesday to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swathe of the occupied West Bank, if he wins a closely contested election just a week away.
Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat called the planned move a war crime under international law governing occupied territory. Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war and Palestinians seek to make the area part of a future state.
Israeli political commentators saw Netanyahu's declaration, in a speech broadcast live on Israel's main TV channels, as a bid to siphon support away from far-right rivals who have long advocated annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
"Today, I announce my intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea," Netanyahu said in a speech broadcast live on Israeli TV channels, calling the area "Israel's eastern border". That step, he said, could be taken "immediately after the election if I receive a clear mandate to do so from you, the citizens of Israel".
Scars on Middle East landscape bear witness to past peace failures
As the first phase of President Donald Trumpʹs peace plan gets underway, talk of Middle East peace is in the air again. Bearing witness to the difficulty of the task are the scars left by wars past across the landscape of Israel, the Palestinian Territories and the Golan Heights. By Stephen Farrell
The Golan is strewn with reminders of the 1967 and 1973 wars between Israel and Syria: minefields, foxholes and abandoned armour
Buildings constructed during the British Mandate era to serve as jails and fortified positions are seen in Al-Jiftlik village near Jericho, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Long abandoned, sheep now wander through the empty buildings, searching for vegetation in the scorching heat of the Jordan Valley. The Israeli military sometimes uses them for training, Palestinian residents say
Huge amounts of money were spent creating the institutions of the Palestinian Authority under its first president, Yasser Arafat, who used Gaza's airport to fly abroad on official visits. Yet, following 9/11, the airport was an early casualty of the ʹwar on terrorʹ: Israeli air strikes and bulldozers destroyed its runway during the second Palestinian Intifada, a few months after the atttacks on the World Trade Center
An abandoned mosque on a rainy morning in the Golan Heights, in territory that Israel captured from Syria and occupied in the 1967 Middle East war: until 1967 a Syrian village inhabited by Circassians stood near the site, which now lies just 5km on the Israeli side of the United Nations-monitored 'Area of Separation' that divides Israeli and Syrian military forces under a 1974 ceasefire agreement
Part of a trench visible in a former Jordanian military post known as Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, now preserved as a memorial: originally built by the British, the site was captured by Jordan in the 1948-1949 war and held by them until Israeli troops took it in the 1967 Six Day War
Arafat’s helicopter – the presidential transport of a long-dead president – is now a rotorless relic on public display in Gaza City, while the skeletal remains of Gaza Airport lie gutted and abandoned close to the southern border with Egypt
An upturned Syrian tank lies in the Hermon Stream in the Banias Nature Reserve on the western edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israel captured the moutainous plateau, a former demilitarized zone, from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War. Today, Israeli tourists carve graffiti into the metal of the tank while dangling their feet in the foaming water below
The wall of a structure in a former Syrian outpost in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the territory that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. In stark contrast to the beauty of the surrounding countryside, it is now crumbling and covered in graffiti, one Arabic message reading: "The Syrian army passed by here"
A house in Lifta, a ruined Palestinian Arab village whose inhabitants left or were forced from their homes in the conflict that accompanied the end of British rule and the founding of Israel in 1948. The abandoned ruins are visible to travellers arriving at the western entrance of Jerusalem
Part of a structure at a former Jordanian military base near the Dead Sea in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The building has stood deserted since the 1967 Middle East war when Israel captured the area from the Jordanians
A sign warning of landmines is seen on a fence in the Golan Heights, the territory that Israel captured from Syria and occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. Many Israeli and foreign tourists drive past the site on their way to popular holiday spots
British soldiers depicted in a mural on an old pillbox in Jerusalem: dating back to the era of British Mandatory rule before 1948, the pillbox stands abandoned at a busy intersection in Jerusalem. The mural was added in recent years
Concrete blast walls in an open area once used by the Israeli military near Rahat, southern Israel. Once part of a facility for training in urban warfare, the barriers are now an isolated scar on the landscape
Arab League foreign ministers condemned Netanyahu's plan, saying it would undermine any chance of progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.
Fighting for his political life after an inconclusive election in April, Netanyahu also reaffirmed a pledge to annex all of the settlements Israel has established in the territory. But he said that broader step could take longer and required "maximum co-ordination" with Washington, Israel's close ally.
"Out of respect for President Trump and great faith in our friendship, I will await applying sovereignty until release of the president's political plan," he said, referring to a long-awaited blueprint from Washington for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The U.S. plan, Netanyahu reiterated, would likely be presented very soon after Israel goes to the polls on 17 September. Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party and in office for the past decade, failed to form a governing coalition following a national ballot in April.
"There is no change in United States policy at this time," a Trump administration official said when asked whether the White House supported Netanyahu's move. "We will release our Vision for Peace after the Israeli election and work to determine the best path forward to bring long sought security, opportunity and stability to the region."
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said in early May that he hoped Israel would take a hard look at President Donald Trump's upcoming Middle East peace proposal before "proceeding with any plan" to annex West Bank settlements.
In an interview with the New York Times in June, U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that "under certain circumstances" Israel has the "right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank".
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said on Twitter after Netanyahu's announcement that the Israeli leader was out to impose a "greater Israel on all of historical Palestine and (carry) out an ethnic cleansing agenda".
"All bets are off. Dangerous aggression. Perpetual conflict," she wrote.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014 and Palestinians have called Trump's proposal dead in the water, even before its publication, citing what they see as his pro-Israel policies.
Last March, just before Israel's previous election, Trump - in a move widely seen as an attempt to bolster Netanyahu - recognised Israel's 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 conflict.
"It's an election stunt and not a very impressive one because it's so transparent," Yair Lapid, co-leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, said in a statement about Netanyahu's plan. Blue and White, led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz and Likud are running neck and neck in opinion polls.
The Jordan Valley, which Palestinians seek for the eastern perimeter of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, stretches from the Dead Sea in the south to the Israeli city of Beit Shean in the north. Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war.
The 2,400 square kilometre valley accounts for nearly 30 percent of the territory in the West Bank. Israel has long said it intends to maintain military control there under any peace agreement with the Palestinians. (Reuters)