'In a high-profile speech on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to annex a part of the West Bank called the Jordan Valley if he wins Israel’s upcoming election on September 17.
“If I am elected I commit to annex the Jordan Valley. It is our eastern border, our defense wall,” the prime minister vowed. “Give me the mandate. No previous Israeli prime minister has proposed doing so.”
The annexation is billed as a security measure, an essential move for Israeli to protect its heartland. In practice, though, it would mean seizing land that’s vital to any future Palestinian state’s success — effectively dismantling the peace process. It’s a truly radical pronouncement, a blaring statement that this Israeli government has no interest in a serious negotiated peace with the Palestinians.
Annexation is not inevitable. Netanyahu might lose the election, or he might end up with a parliamentary coalition that would block his move. The speech was clearly designed to shore up Netanyahu’s support in the upcoming elections (particularly with right-wing voters).
But just because the promise is campaign rhetoric doesn’t mean it’s empty. Experts warn that the very act of putting annexation on the table will shift Israeli politics even further to the right, potentially scuppering the peace process for good.
“Instead of a conversation on whether annexation is smart or stupid, bad for Israel or good for Israel, everyone across the Israeli political spectrum will accept this new baseline and annexation becomes normal,” writes Michael Koplow, policy director at the center-left Israel Policy Forum. “As it is, the gap between Israel and the Palestinians is wide and widening by the day. This makes that gap unbridgeable if it becomes the new Israeli baseline position.”
Why annexation is so scary for the peace process
The Jordan Valley runs along the east edge of the West Bank, the heavily Palestinian-populated area taken by Israel in the 1967 war, marking its boundary with neighboring Jordan. It contains both Palestinian population centers, like the city of Jericho, and a number of Israeli settlements.
Netanyahu claimed in his speech that he would not be “annexing even one Palestinian.” To do that, he exempted Jericho and nearby Palestinian villages from the annexation proposal, opting instead to encircle them (the red blob in the map below) with newly taken Israeli land (the much bigger blue chunk.'
Read more: Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex a massive part of the West Bank, explained