Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country will annex the Jordan Valley and other settlements if he’s re-elected.
The country’s election is scheduled for Sept. 17.
Speaking on Sept. 10, Netanyahu said his administration would work with President Donald Trump to annex the settlements in Judea and Samaria.
“I will not do anything without getting a clear mandate from the public, and so the citizens of Israel I ask you for a clear mandate to do this,” Netanyahu said in a statement from Ramat Gan’s Kfar Maccabiah Hotel, reported the Jerusalem Post.
“There is a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something with broad consensus and bring safe permanent borders to the State of Israel. This will ensure that Judea and Samaria does not become Gaza, and that Kfar Saba, Netanya, and Tel Aviv will not become like communities along the border of Gaza.”
The prime minister said Israel wouldn’t annex any Palestinians.
The plan would not be acted upon until Trump reveals his Middle East peace plan, which the United States recently said would be delayed until after the Israeli election, except for the annexation of the Jordan Valley, which would be done “immediately after the election” if citizens give him the clear mandate, Netanyahu said.
In a statement in response to Netanyahu’s comments, the White House said, “There is no change in the United States policy at this time. 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.”
Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. About 2.7 million people live in the West Bank, including approximately 391,000 Jewish settlers.
The main Palestinian city in the valley is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said in early May that he hoped Israel would take a hard look at Trump’s upcoming Middle East peace proposal before “proceeding with any plan” to annex West Bank settlements.
In an interview with the New York Times in June, U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that “under certain circumstances” Israel has the “right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said on Twitter after Netanyahu’s announcement that the Israeli leader was out to impose a “greater Israel on all of historical Palestine and (carry) out an ethnic cleansing agenda.”
“All bets are off. Dangerous aggression. Perpetual conflict,” she wrote.
Netanyahu’s rivals also decried the plan.
“It’s an election stunt and not a very impressive one because it’s so transparent,” Yair Lapid, co-leader of the centrist Blue and White Party, said in a statement.
The 926.65 square mile Jordan Valley accounts for nearly 30 percent of the territory in the West Bank, which is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Delaware. The valley stretches from the Dead Sea in the south to the Israeli city of Beit She’an in the north.
The West Bank was annexed from the British in 1950. Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war.
About 60 percent of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, remains under Israeli military control following the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, which gave the Palestinian Authority responsible for a number of Palestinian-populated areas of the bank. The rest of the territory is controlled by the authority.
A U.S. State Department travel advisory still active from Dec. 2018 warns travelers to reconsider traveling to the West bank because of “terrorism, potentially violent civil unrest, and the potential for armed conflict.”
“Terrorist groups and lone-wolf terrorists continue plotting possible attacks in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities,” it stated.
“Violence can occur in Jerusalem and the West Bank without warning.”
Reuters contributed to this report.