Netanyahu vows to annex West Bank territory

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Sunday to annex key parts of the occupied West Bank within “weeks” if re-elected, as he sought to sway voters a day before the country’s third election in a year.
Final polls pointed to another tight race between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and the centrist Blue and White party, led by ex-military chief Benny Gantz.
All parties have raised concern about voter apathy amid the grinding political stalemate, putting added emphasis on turnout.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving premier, has been accused before previous elections of making last-minute plays to energise his right-wing base.
In an interview with Israeli public radio, he said annexation of the strategically crucial Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank was his top priority among “four major immediate missions”.
“That will happen within weeks, two months at the most, I hope,” he said in the interview aired 24 hours before polls were scheduled to open.
US President Donald Trump’s widely-criticised Middle East peace plan, unveiled in late January, gave the Jewish state a green light to annex the Jordan Valley and proposed a committee to set out the exact borders of the territory in question.
“The joint US-Israeli mapping committee started work a week ago,” Netanyahu said.
Former Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, also an ex-Netanyahu ally, publicly accused the prime minister of engaging in empty political rhetoric.
Lieberman, who heads the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party and may again be in the position of kingmaker following Monday’s vote, said he had “ironclad information” that Netanyahu’s comments on the Jordan Valley were at least partly insincere.
“A few days ago, it became clear to me that he sent a message to (Jordan’s) King Abdullah, (saying) ‘Don’t worry, its just elections, there will be no annexation of the Jordan Valley’,” Lieberman said in a TV interview.
Many experts agree that a unilateral move by Israel to annex the strategically important valley would inflame regional tensions and damage ties with neighbouring Jordan, one of only two Arab countries that has agreed a peace deal with Israel.
Netanyahu listed his other priorities as signing an “historic” defence treaty with the United States, Israel’s key ally, and “eradicating the threat”, without elaborating.

Netanyahu said that his fourth “immediate” goal if re-elected — despite facing trial on multiple corruption charges — would be major economic reform to bring down Israel’s high cost of living. — AFP