‘Historic opportunity’ – Netanyahu to push ahead with annexation of occupied West Bank in July

The National  /  May 26, 2020

The Israeli PM said he would not let this ‘historic opportunity’ to annex parts of the territory pass, despite condemnation from allies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he intends to push ahead with plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in a move that could end the possibility of a two-state solution.

Mr Netanyahu said Israel had a “historic opportunity” to redraw the Middle East map that could not be missed and told Israeli media he will begin on July 1.

The Palestinians, whose claim to the entire occupied West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state has widespread international support, have rejected the plan and last week cut security ties with Israel and the US in protest.

Mr Netanyahu has campaigned on pledges to extend Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley and other areas of the occupied West Bank, which are considered illegal by Palestine and much of the international community.

At a meeting on Monday, he told members of his conservative Likud party that land moves in the occupied territory were “perhaps the first in importance in many respects,” of the tasks to be undertaken by the government he and Benny Gantz formed on May 17.

Not since Israel’s founding in 1948 has the country had such an opportunity to annex the territory, he told legislators, in an apparent reference to US support for the plan.

The Middle East Peace Plan unveiled by US President Donald Trump last January proposes placing 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank under Israeli control, while giving Palestinians expanded autonomy in the rest of the territory, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Commentators have warned that pushing ahead risks destabilising the region. The Arab League has condemned the annexation plan as a “war crime” and both Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel, have strongly criticised it. The UAE has also warned against annexation.

King Abdullah of Jordan has said that Israel’s annexation of the territory in July “would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom”.

It has also prompted widespread criticism from the international community. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said it would violate international law and vowed to use “all our diplomatic capacities” to stop it.

With Mr Trump’s re-election prospects uncertain in November, Israeli hardliners have urged Mr Netanyahu to move ahead with annexation swiftly, aware that a new administration is unlikely to back the move.

Mr Trump’s rival Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden said recently that annexation would “choke off” hopes for a two-state solution and 18 Democratic senators warned in a letter this week that it could harm US-Israeli ties.

The issue was high on the agenda during US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Jerusalem earlier this month. “We spoke of ways to advance the peace plan, Trump’s peace plan,” Mr Pompeo told Israel Hayom, though he declined to comment on the timeframe.

Speaking a day after beginning his trial on corruption charges, Mr Netanyahu told party members that he would not let the opportunity pass. “We have a target date for July and we don’t intend to change it,” he said.