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MIDDLE EAST

Israeli Prime Minister Vows to Annex Part of West Bank

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu in Sochi, Russia, 14 May 2013.
Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu in Sochi, Russia, 14 May 2013. (Photo: Kremlin.ru)

A week before Israel heads to the polls to determine the country’s and Netanyahu’s future, Netanyahu made a bold vow to annex West Bank territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday his intention to annex the Jordan Valley, a part of the West Bank that Israel occupies but Palestinians claim as its territory, if he wins the upcoming election which is slated for next Tuesday, Sept. 17.

In a televised press conference, aired by a number of Israeli TV channels, Netanyahu told viewers, “Today I announce my intention to apply, with the formation of the next government, Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea,” adding that extending Israeli sovereignty over the lands is a “historic opportunity.”

According to the Israeli online newspaper Ynetnews, Netanyahu’s speech also highlighted the Israeli PM’s intention to allow the construction of more Israeli settlements, dubbed illegal by U.N. resolutions, across the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel claimed as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Palestinians Respond

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to Netanyahu’s announcement by reaffirming Palestine’s right to defend its goals and declaring that all agreements with Isreal would be canceled if Netanyahu moved forward with the annexation plan.

“We have the right to defend our rights and achieve our goals by all available means, whatever the results, as Netanyahu’s decisions contradict the resolutions of international legitimacy and international law,” said Abbas.

Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, speaking shortly before Netanyahu’s press conference, said that once Netanyahu takes such a unilateral action, he is then  “a prime destroyer of peace in the region.”

In the Gaza Strip, the ruling Islamist Hamas party responded by saying that the Netanyahu statement brings no change of facts on the ground and will not stop Palestinian resistance.

“Such an announcement should be encountered by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah with cutting off all ties with Israel, mainly the security coordination and halt of all futile peace negotiations with Israel,” Hamas spokesman in Gaza Fawzi Barhoum said.

Rocket Fire During Election Campaigning

Shortly after Netanyahu’s speech at least five rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza into Israeli areas, including  Asdod and Ashkelon cities. In Asdod, which is about 40 kilometers away from Gaza, rocket fire was reported as Netanyahu spoke to supporters. Israeli media outlets reported that guards rushed Netanyahu off the stage and took him to a conference hall.

The latest announcement by the Israeli Prime Minister comes a few months after Washington recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, north of Israel.

The U.S. ambassador to Tel-Aviv, David Friedman, last June hinted at what he believed to be Israel’s right to annex at least some parts of the West Bank.

“Under certain circumstances,” Friedman told the N.Y. Times, “I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”

Israel Heads to the Polls Next Week

After last April’s elections in Israel, Netanyahu, who has kept the post of prime minister for the past decade, was set to begin a fourth consecutive term in the same office.

Netanyahu’s Likud party won 35 seats, while his religious and nationalist allies won another 30, which seemed to put Netanyahu onto a path towards a solid majority in the 120-seat parliament – a coalition government needs a simple majority of control of at least 61 seats.

However, in May, the Isreali Parliament, known as the Knesset, voted to disband itself and hold a new election after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to meet the deadline to form a coalition government despite winning his re-election in April.

Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, accused Netanyahu of choosing self-preservation over following the country’s political procedures. Gantz said Netanyahu opted for “three crazy months” of a new campaign and millions of wasted dollars over new elections because he is “legally incapacitated” by looming indictments, as Ynet reported.

Gantz’ party also won 35 seats during Israel’s April elections. But despite the tie between Blue and White and Likud in the election, the right-wing parties Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yisrael Beiteinu, Union of Right-Wing Parties and Kulanu out-performed left-wing parties and were expected to form a coalition government giving Netanyahu another term as Prime Minister.

Israel will vote once again next Tuesday, September 17, in an election sure to be closely watched around the world.

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Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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