JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention on Tuesday to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swathe of the occupied West Bank, if he wins a closely contested election just a week away.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that “all signed agreements with Israel and the obligations resulting from them would end” if Netanyahu went through with the move.
Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war and Palestinians, who signed interim peace deals with Israel in the 1990s that include security cooperation, seek to make the area part of a future state.
Israeli political commentators saw Netanyahu’s declaration, in a speech broadcast live on Israel’s main TV channels, as a bid to siphon support away from far-right rivals who have long advocated annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“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 in a speech broadcast live on Israeli TV channels, calling the area “Israel’s eastern border."
That step, he said, could be taken “immediately after the election if I receive a clear mandate to do so from you, the citizens of Israel."
Arab League foreign ministers condemned Netanyahu’s plan, saying it would undermine any chance of progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.
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. The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.