Netanyahu isn’t bluffing about his plans to annex the Jordan Valley – but will he succeed?

While the map he pointed to may have been hastily drawn up, the Israeli prime minister’s wish to make good on Trump’s loyalty is clear

Bel Trew
Sunday 15 September 2019 18:40
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Netanyahu wants to name Golan Heights community after Trump

Israel’s prime minister is well known for his cartoonish props and bombastic televised speeches.

Wielding a red pen, he famously scribbled over a clip-art image of a bomb during a 2012 United Nations speech warning about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It won him praise back home but also sniggers abroad. That said, it successfully got the message across.

This week, just days ahead of Israel’s second election in just a few months, he delivered another suitably dramatic speech which was no exception. But few were laughing.

Campaigning under the shadow of three possible corruption trials, the premier is battling for his life to win the elections which start on Tuesday, after failing to form a government following April polls.

And so on Wednesday evening he stood in front of a roughly (and as it turns out, inaccurately) drawn map of the Jordan Valley and north Dead Sea, and with a pointer declared everything in blue, which constitutes just over 22 per cent of the occupied West Bank, would be immediately annexed to Israel if he is re-elected.

The controversial act, he hinted, would be supported by Donald Trump despite it being illegal under international law and sure to spark conflict with the Palestinians if not the region as a whole.

“It doesn’t annex a single Palestinian but it does allow the Palestinians to leave freely east and west including to Jordan,” the prime minster concluded, pointing to a miserable splodge of land earmarked for the Palestinians. It is now islanded by blue, save three roads, to Jordan and other parts of the Palestinian territories.

“No prime minister has ever brought such a map to voters,” he concluded.

And Israeli rights groups agreed. But for very different reasons.

While Netanyahu has promised annexation in the past (particularly before elections) this time rights groups warned he meant it.

“For the first time in history, a prime minister in Israel presented a map indicating that his vision is that no Palestinian state will be established alongside Israel,” Peace now, an Israeli settlement watchdog said in a withering statement that likened the move to apartheid.

“An independent and viable Palestinian state cannot be established with such a large swath of land along the Jordan River taken away,” the group added.

Peace Now also pointed out the map was wrong, indicating it may have been hastily drawn up.

As was Netanyahu’s claim that not a single Palestinian would be annexed in his plan – a line that was incidentally omitted from the official translation of the speech that was later handed out to journalists by his campaign managers.

The map had left out (or Netanyahu chose to ignore) nearly 9,000 Palestinians, who live in 48 vulnerable shepherding communities in the occupied Jordan Valley but are now in the Israeli annexed blue area, according to Peace Now (citing the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics).

The settlement watchdog also said a fifth of the map, or 25,000 hectares of what the prime minister plans to annex also lies on Palestinian private land. Two large Palestinians villages were left off the map altogether.

In fact, according to The Times of Israel, nine of the 30 Israeli settlements marked in the area primed for annexation were actually drawn on wrong.

In short, as Hagit Ofran from Peace Now told the same paper, “The Palestinians do not exist to [Netanyahu].”

Her organisation called it “a vision of apartheid’ and said it was “alarmingly similar” to the Bantustan formula in former apartheid South Africa.

They warned that despite the fact that Netanyahu has promised to annex the Jordan Valley in the past, his promise should not be dismissed as reckless electioneering. This time, he offered a time frame, presented a relatively detailed, albeit flawed, map and implied the Trump administration would back it.

Perhaps he appeared more emboldened because during the last pre-election rush, Trump recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 war.

Perhaps he is more determined because he is fighting for his political life, with the threat of indictment on the horizon.

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But he already begun taking steps in the Jordan Valley.

In his plans of what he will annex lies 18 Israeli settler outposts, which are even illegal under Israeli law.

On Sunday, just over a day before everyone heads to the polls, his government approved a proposal to retroactively legalise one of them – Mevo’ot Yeriho – which was established in 1999 as an agricultural plot, but now houses several dozen families in caravans.

While it is not necessary to legalise the outposts once they are annexed – it underpins the seriousness of his desire for the Jordan Valley.

And what a re-election of Netanyahu could look like.

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