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Israel's Netanyahu renews West Bank annexation pledge ahead of third election

The Jordan Valley is widely considered a vital part of a future Palestinian state [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 January, 2020

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Netanyahu's leading rival Benny Gantz on Tuesday promised to annex the Jordan Valley if elected.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renewed his pledge to annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as the embattled leader kicked off a third election campaign in under a year on Tuesday.

Addressing supports of his right-wing Likud Party at a campaign launch event in Jerusalem, Netanyahu vowed to "impose Israeli sovereignity on the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea", then promised to annex all Israeli settlements in the West Bank "without exception".

The Israeli premier had previously called for the annexation of the Jordan Valley ahead of last year's repeat parliamentary elections in September. Israel first went to the polls in April last year but two subsequent elections have failed to yield a government coalition.

The Jordan Valley makes up around a third of the occupied West Bank. For Palestinians, its fertile lands and moderate climate make it a vital part of a future state. Israeli officials, however, contend the region is crucial to defending the country's eastern flank.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said late last year that the annexation of the Jordan Valley would violate international law.

The majority of the international community agrees that existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank also run contrary to international law. Most of the settlements are located in Area C, which makes up around 60 percent of the West Bank.

The annexation of both the Jordan Valley and the more than 200 settlements scattered across the West Bank is widely considered a move that would make a future Palestinian state untenable.
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UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo reiterated at a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday that "all settlements are illegal under international law and remain an obstacle to peace" and warned against annexation.

DiCarlo cited among the "negative developments" undermining prospects for a two-state solution the first meeting of a new ministerial committee tasked with discussing annexation plans for the Jordan Valley.

She also noted Israeli authorities having advanced plans earlier this month for some 1,900 residential units in settlements.

"The annexation of some or all of Area C, if implemented, would deal a devastating blow to the potential of reviving negotiations, advancing regional peace, and the essence of the two-state solution," DiCarlo warned.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, told the council that "neither threats nor attempts at annexation should go unchallenged".

"The urgency of stopping Israeli annexation schemes cannot be underestimated; immediate action is needed before it is too late," he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's office said in a statement that the calls to annex areas of the West Bank "undermine the foundations of the peace process" and regional stability.

In her 2019 annual report, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office was following Israel's proposed annexation of West Bank areas "with concern".

The US has not commented on Israel's stated intentions to annex the region.

Both the prime minister and his main rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, have tried to pander to hard-line nationalist voters as the election approaches.

Israel faces an unprecedented third parliamentary election in under a year on 2 March.

Earlier on Tuesday, Gantz said his party would "work toward establishing sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and we will do so based on national agreement and in coordination with the international community".

Most political analysts see the March election as a referendum on Netanyahu's ability to lead following his indictment on a series of corruption charges in November. Netanyahu, Israel's longest serving prime minister, has denied any wrongdoing.

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