“I will not do anything without getting a clear mandate from the public, and so the citizens of Israel, I ask you for a clear mandate to do this,” Netanyahu said in his statement that he delivered at Ramat Gan’s Kfar Maccabiah Hotel. “There is a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something with broad consensus and bring safe permanent borders to the State of Israel. This will ensure that Judea and Samaria do not become Gaza, and that Kfar Saba, Netanya and Tel Aviv will not become like communities along the border of Gaza.”
Pointing to a map of the Jordan Valley, he said Israel could carry out the plan without annexing a single Palestinian, and ensuring that Palestinians maintain complete freedom of movement throughout the West Bank. He hinted that the plan had been coordinated with the US.
“Over the past few months I led a diplomatic effort, and over the past few days the diplomatic conditions have become ready,” Netanyahu said in what was seen as a reference to his meeting in London on Thursday night with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and long phone calls last week with US Vice President Mike Pence.
Sources close to Netanyahu said that Israel keeping the Jordan Valley is in Trump’s plan.
Israeli officials informed the White House in advance about Netanyahu’s statement. The White House peace team did not consider the statement as one that would prevent a future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“There is no change in the United States policy at this time,” the White House said. “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.”
Netanyahu warned that if he did not win the election, Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid would not take such steps, and would not be able to handle the Trump administration’s plan. But both Gantz and Lapid have said in the past that they too envision Israel keeping the Jordan Valley forever.
Blue and White reacted to Netanyahu’s statement by sarcastically praising Netanyahu for “adopting Blue and White’s plan for recognizing the Jordan Valley.” The party accused Netanyahu of having a plan to give up the Jordan Valley in 2014.
The Palestinians strongly condemned Netanyahu’s move, and warned that it will have negative consequences.
“Netanyahu is the chief destroyer of the peace process, and any foolish move he makes will leave negative consequences on him locally and internationally,” said PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. “Palestine is not part of Netanyahu’s election campaign, and if he believes that annexing settlement blocs will bring him more votes in the short term, then he and Israel will be the losers in the long term.”
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat expressed concern over Netanyahu’s intention, saying that the “last thing Palestinians and Israelis need is to add fuel to the fire. We need to extinguish the fire. We need to make peace.”
Other Palestinian officials said that Netanyahu’s pledge to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley if reelected is a “declaration of war” on the Palestinians and the peace process.
Palestinian leadership will hold an emergency meeting in the coming days to discuss the repercussions of Netanyahu’s announcement, according to a PA official, adding that Netanyahu’s announcement means that the two-state solution is dead and the Palestinians will no longer abide by signed agreements with Israel.
Joint List MK Ofer Cassif reacted by saying that “to escape from prison, Netanyahu will try to annex tens of thousands of Palestinians, while depriving them of rights in what will become official apartheid.”
Even before Netanyahu’s address, the head of the Jordan Valley Council released a statement thanking the prime minister “for the historic decision.”
The Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of Jewish settlement municipal councils in the West Bank, said “this is a very important time that the settlements have been expecting since their inception.”
The Yesha Council welcomed “the historic position, which places the settlements as integral parts of the State of Israel.”
The right-wing Otzma Yehudit Party offered congratulations to Netanyahu for his Tuesday address, and said they hope “the prime minister will make the right decision: to form a strong right-wing government.”
Yamina candidate Naftali Bennett said Netanyahu needs to take action to annex the Jordan Valley, not just talk.
“These are only words,” Bennett said. “They can be implemented immediately. I call on the prime minister: pass the ‘Jordan Valley bill’ in three readings tomorrow, instead of the ‘cameras bill.’”
Bennett pointed out that on December 14, 1981, under then-prime minister Menachem Begin, the Knesset passed the Golan Heights Law in all three readings in one day.
Netanyahu has made similar promises in the past and has not kept them, Bennett pointed out.
“Before elections Netanyahu promised construction in E1 in Ma’aleh Adumim, and after the elections it didn’t happen,” Bennett said. “Before elections Netanyahu promised [the] death penalty for terrorists, and after the elections it didn’t happen. Before elections Netanyahu promised to get rid of Hamas, and after the elections it didn’t happen.
“Since I am certain of Netanyahu’s honest intentions, I can commit to all MKs in Yamina standing at any time, anywhere, to immediately pass a ‘Jordan Valley bill,’” Bennett added.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman responded to the speech with a derisive comment on Twitter, saying sarcastically “Dramatic declaration” accompanied by two crying-with-laughter emoticons.
Blue and White and the Democratic Union asked the head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer, not to broadcast the speech. But he said he trusted media outlets to pull the plug on the broadcasts if Netanyahu veered into election propaganda.
The networks did indeed stop showing the speech soon after it began.
Lahav Harkov and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.
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