Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex the Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley and the Northern Dead Sea if re-elected on 17 September. Less than a week from what appears to be one of the most uncertain electoral rounds in recent years, the Israeli Premier, in office since 2009, plays the “extension of Israeli sovereignty” card to this area of the West Bank occupied since 1967. The Jordan Valley covers an area of 2,400 square kilometres (with 2.5 million Palestinian inhabitants), equivalent to a third of the West Bank, where some 500,000 Israeli settlers came to live over the years, in settlements and illegal outposts. The initiative that risks to further flare up the Middle Eastern area. In Netanyahu’s intentions, the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea will become “the eastern defensive wall and safety belt of the country”. The Premier indicated the areas to be annexed: “from the city of Beit Shean in the north, following the so-called ‘Allon Trail’ to Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea.” The city of Jericho will not be annexed and, acting as a sort of enclave, will remain part of the Palestinian National Autonomy (PNA). Instead, large settlements would be annexed to Israel, such as Maalè Adumim, Gush Etzion, now adjacent to Jerusalem, and Ariel.
Reactions from the Arab world. Netanyahu’s announcement caused harsh reactions on the part of the Palestinians and the Arab world. “Palestinian land is not part of Netanyahu’s election campaign and it is not for sale!” exclaimed Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who dubbed Netanyahu “the chief destroyer of the peace process.” For his part, Palestinian President Abu Mazen threatened to cancel “all agreements with Israel”, while the Arab League, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan have strongly condemned the Israeli announcement defining it an “aggression”. For Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, “without US backing and international silence, notably of Europe, Netanyahu could not take such far-reaching steps.” Riyadh also called for an “emergency meeting” of the foreign ministers of the 57 member states of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Concrete risk. “Now the risk is to dismiss Netanyahu’s declaration as an electoral strategy, however not new, with the aim of uniting Likud’s electorate and ousting his opponents from the far right and draining the religious parties.” In the opinion of Middle East analyst and expert, former president of the Italian Centre for Peace in the Middle East (Cipmo), Janiki Cingoli,
“the Israeli Prime Minister’s initiative could turn out to be very concrete also because it is linked to the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights by the US President, Donald Trump, and to the US decision not to consider the West Bank as an occupied (but controlled, ed’s note.) territory. These announcements could give the green light to the annexation of part of the West Bank, claimed by Israel for decades.”
On top of this, Cingoli said, there is “the so-called ‘Agreement of the Century’, which in Trump’s intentions would put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but which would appear to have a chiefly economic dimension. According to indiscretions under this agreement the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea are both viewed as a safety buffer by Israel, as are the large settlement blocks.
A series of bantustans (territories set aside for Palestinians only, ed’s note.) with reinforced autonomy and economic incentives are thus taking shape”. For Cingoli, “Netanyahu’s promise should be viewed against the broader backdrop of tensions with Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, although a meeting between Trump and Iranian President Rouhani at the next UN assembly, mediated by France, has not been ruled out. Let’s not forget the artillery shells in the North, on the border with Lebanon and Gaza, where Palestinian rocket attacks continue.” Are we facing a death blow on the process for the resumption of negotiations?
“I doubt that an ongoing negotiation process can be spoken of when it comes to Trump – Cingoli said – but the possibility that the US president may change his mind, even in the event of a re-election, cannot be excluded. The same goes for Netanyahu who, alongside warlike declarations during the election campaign, eventually endeavours to avoid flare-ups of violence”.