Netanyahu calls for unity government that would annex Jordan Valley
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a unity government that would annex large parts of the occupied West Bank before a meeting with his political rival Benny Gantz, who faces a looming deadline to form a ruling coalition.
Late on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he called on Gantz and former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman to come together in a "broad unity government that will safeguard the security of Israel and annex the Jordan Valley", Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
The Jordan Valley covers about one-third of the Palestinian West Bank, and days before the Israeli election in September, Netanyahu vowed to "apply Israeli sovereignty" to the area if reelected.
Earlier on Tuesday, the prime minister also backed a bill advancing in the Israeli parliament to annex the Jordan Valley.
In a video posted on Twitter later in the day, he cited the United States' proclamation that Israeli settlements are not necessarily inconsistent with international law in a call to Israeli politicians to form a coalition government that would annex the Palestinian area.
"The historic decision by the American administration from yesterday hands us a unique opportunity to set Israel’s eastern border and annex the Jordan Valley," Netanyahu said in Hebrew, as reported by Israeli newspaper The Times of Israel.
His remarks come as Gantz faces a difficult task of forming a government that would have the backing of the majority of Israeli lawmakers.
The ex-Israeli army chief has until midnight local time on Wednesday to form a coalition.
September's election ended in a tie between Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Blue and White Party, with both leaders falling well short of the 61-seat majority.
Gantz was handed a chance to form a government on 23 October after Netanyahu failed to put together a coalition that would gain the backing of the parliament.
Netanyahu has repeatedly warned Gantz from forming a government with the Joint List party, which is led by Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The Joint List emerged from the elections with 13 seats, while Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu has eight.
Gantz needs the backing of both the Joint List and Yisrael Beiteinu to form a government without Netanyahu's Likud and its allies - an unlikely outcome given Lieberman's staunch right-wing views.
The meeting between Gantz and Netanyahu late on Tuesday ended after an hour without an immediate statement from either side, The Jerusalem Post reported.
If Gantz fails to meet Wednesday's deadline, Israel faces the possibility of an unprecedented third election within the span of a year.
Netanyahu claimed victory in the first election on 9 April, but he was not able to pull together a ruling conservative bloc with right-wing parties, triggering the election in September.