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Netanyahu vows to annex Jordan Valley 'immediately' if re-elected

Israeli prime minister says Trump's peace plan a historic opportunity to extend sovereignty in the occupied West Bank
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in Ramat Gan (Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he will annex the occupied West Bank's Jordan Valley if re-elected prime minister.

In a speech televised live on all Israeli TV channels, Netanyahu said he would also annex illegal Israeli settlements after the Jordan Valley's annexation was complete. 

"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. 

The Jordan Valley accounts for around one-third of the West Bank and Israeli right-wing politicians have long viewed the strategic area as a part of the territory they would never retreat from.

The premier added that US President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan, which has been delayed until after Israel's 17 September parliamentary election, presents a "historic opportunity" to extend Israeli sovereignty.

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This plan would allow Israel to "apply our sovereignty over our settlements in Judea and Samaria and other places key to our security, our heritage and our future," Netanyahu said in front of Israeli flags, using the Israeli name for the areas encompassing the West Bank.

Jordan Valley

After Netanyahu's announcement, Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said on Twitter that the Israeli leader was out to impose a "'greater Israel' on all of historical Palestine". 

"All bets are off. Dangerous aggression. Perpetual conflict," she wrote.

The PLO's Secretary General Saeb Erekat said that the announcement should be added to a long history of Israel violating international law, adding that the Jordan Valley is an "integral part of occupied Palestine".

"Israel's unprecedented culture of impunity, enabled by international inaction, is the only explanation for Mr Netanyahu's audacity in using annexation as an election ploy, and asking the Israeli public to facilitate yet another Israeli crime," Erekat said in a statement.

He further called on the international community to stop Netanyahu from blocking any prospects that could lead to an independent Palestinian state.

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, also slammed Netanyahu in a Twitter post on Tuesday, calling the announcement "illegal, unlawful and aggressive".

"[We] will defend rights and interests of our Palestinian brothers&sisters till the end," he said. 

A few days before the April legislative elections, which failed to produce a government, Netanyahu had already promised to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

While Israel's colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem has continued under all Israeli governments since 1967, it has accelerated in recent years under the leadership of Netanyahu and his ally in Washington, Donald Trump.

To date, more than 600,000 Israelis are living in often confrontational coexistence with three million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem

The move to annex the Jordan Valley could effectively kill any remaining hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, long the focus of international diplomacy.

Israeli settlements are located in what is known as Area C of the West Bank, which accounts for some 60 percent of the territory, including most of the Jordan Valley.

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