By MARCY OSTER
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that if he is re-elected, he will immediately annex the Jordan Valley.
Netanyahu also promised to annex West Bank Jewish settlements in what he termed a “dramatic announcement” exactly one week before Israelis go to the polls for national elections on Sept. 17. The announcement was a plea for votes.
“This is a democracy. I won’t do anything without a clear mandate. So I’m asking for a mandate, to do this thing that enjoys a broad consensus, to define at long last Israel’s permanent borders, promising that Judea and Samaria don’t turn into Gaza,” the prime minister said, using the biblical terms for the West Bank.
“This map defines our eastern frontier. We haven’t had this kind of opportunity since the Six-Day War, and may not have it again for another 50 years.”
Netanyahu said he would not take steps to annex territory beyond the Jordan Valley until after the unveiling of the Trump administration’s peace plan, and that all annexation would happen in coordination with the Trump administration. He said Trump plans to announce the peace plan soon after the election.
A Trump administration official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that there is no change in U.S. policy in the wake of the announcement.
“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,” the official said.
Netanyahu displayed a map of the Jordan Valley during his announcement. Pointing to the map, he said the annexed territory would not include any Palestinian areas, though a few of them, including the city of Jericho, would be surrounded by Israel under the plan. The prime minister also said that roads stemming from Jericho would allow Palestinians access to other Palestinian areas.
In a recent poll, the Israel Democracy Institute found that 48 percent of Jewish Israelis and 11 percent of Arab Israelis would favor the annexation of Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control and encompasses nearly all of the Jewish settlements, if it were supported by the Trump administration. Some 28 percent of Jewish Israelis and 56 percent of Arab Israelis oppose the idea, with the remainder undecided.
Netanyahu touted his good relationship with Trump and other world leaders as a reason for Israeli voters to chose him over Benny Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White Party.
In its response to the announcement, Blue and White said the party has made clear that the Jordan Valley “is a part of Israel forever.”
Later it said “We are happy that Netanyahu has come around to adopt the Blue and White plan to recognize the Jordan Valley. The relationship between Israel and the United States is founded upon common interests and values and it is stronger than any Prime Minister.”
Prior to the announcement, Blue and White and the Democratic Union, a left-wing party, filed complaints with the Central Elections Committee accusing Netanyahu of using the announcement as a free election advertisement. The committee decided against prohibiting coverage of the announcement, saying it had “clear news value,” and warned Netanyahu against using the opportunity as a campaign ad.
“This is a campaign gimmick, and it isn’t even a very successful campaign gimmick,” said Yair Lapid, Blue and White’s co-chair, in his own impromptu live video. “He doesn’t want to annex the Jordan Valley. He wants to annex the votes of Ayelet Shaked,” who leads another right-wing party called Yamina.
Netanyahu’s announcement was aired on several major networks, though two cut away to commercial about halfway through and the anchors began talking over the announcement on a third channel.