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Netanyahu pledges to annex West Bank territory 'within weeks' if re-elected

The Israeli prime minister said the annexation of the Jordan Valley was one of four 'immediate missions'
Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to annex parts of the West Bank if he is re-elected (Reuters)

A day before Israel’s third election in a year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex huge swathes of occupied West Bank territory within weeks if re-elected.

"That will happen within weeks, two months at the most, I hope," he said in the interview with Israeli public radio.

The annexation of the Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank was among “four major immediate missions” he said. "The joint US-Israeli mapping committee started work a week ago," he added.

Such a move would be considered illegal under international law, as is Israel's continued occupation.

US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan, unveiled in January, recommended the annexation of the area and proposed a committee to demarcate the exact borders of an expanded Israel.

US recognition of Israeli claims in the Occupied Golan Heights and the relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem since Trump came into office, have further emboldened the Israeli prime minister.

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Netanyahu vowed to annex West Bank territory ahead of elections in April and September, but the plans were shelved after he was unable to form a government. If carried out, the move would likely spell an end to Palestinian aspirations of statehood.

In February, Israeli settlers were left furious when Netanyahu stalled plans to annex occupied territory following the unveiling of the Trump plan. 

On Saturday, Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu political party, claimed that while promising to annex West Bank territory in public, Netanyahu had secretly told Jordan’s King Abdullah that he planned to not go ahead with the pledge.

“It became clear to me a few days ago that at the same time as all the stories about annexing the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu sent a message by way of the security establishment to King Abdullah [saying], ‘Don’t worry, it’s only elections, there won’t be annexation',” said Lieberman, who supports annexing the Jordan Valley.

Netanyahu’s Likud party hit back on Saturday, calling Lieberman’s claims “a complete lie”. 

Netanyahu, who faces trial on multiple corruption charges, said on Sunday that his fourth “immediate” goal, would be to reform Israel's economy to bring down the cost of living.

After inconclusive elections in April and September, Netanyahu heads into Monday’s election neck and neck with centrist rival Benny Gantz.

A former armed forces chief, Gantz has also pledged to annex occupied West Bank territory.