Peace takes a backseat as Netanyahu moves to boost electoral chances
LONDON - Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is making a last-ditch push to boost his chances in the September 17 Israeli elections but his campaign efforts appear to be at the expense of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians or forming better ties with the wider region.
The latest poll, released September 12 by the state-owned Kan 11 television channel, predicted that Netanyahu’s Likud party would win 31 seats in parliament, two fewer than the figure expected for his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, who heads the Blue and White alliance.
Both the right-wing Likud and the centrist Blue and White would need to form alliances with other parties to secure the 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset to form a coalition government. In an apparent bid to court more voters and parties that are to the right of Likud, Netanyahu stepped up his rhetoric against Palestinians.
Netanyahu vowed to annex the Jordan Valley, which accounts for approximately one-third of the occupied West Bank, if he wins the elections.
“I announce my intention, after the establishment of a new government, to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea,” Netanyahu said September 10.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that all peace agreements with Israel would end if Netanyahu carried out the pledge. The Jordan Valley is home to 65,000 Palestinians and 9,000 Israeli settlers.
The European Union warned that Netanyahu’s promise if implemented would “undermine the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”
Netanyahu’s annexation announcement drew condemnation from Arab countries, which Israel hopes to normalise ties with.
Saudi Arabia denounced Netanyahu’s move as a “very dangerous escalation” and called for an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation “to discuss the serious Israeli escalation.”
“The Arab and Islamic worlds’ preoccupation with many local and regional crises will not affect the status of the Palestinian cause,” the Saudi Royal Court said, stressing that there would be “no peace without the return of the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Netanyahu’s announcement was also condemned by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which, like Saudi Arabia, share Israel’s concerns regarding Iran’s role in the region.
Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said, as reported by WAM news agency: “Such announcements exploit electoral processes in the most heinous form, without regard to the legitimacy of international resolutions, undermining the international community’s efforts to reach a just and peaceful solution to the conflict.”
Netanyahu’s remarks were denounced by Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries that have full diplomatic ties with Israel. The Israeli move would “lead to more violence and conflict,” wrote Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi on Twitter.
“The [Jordanian] House of Representatives, rejecting all the racist statements coming from the leadership of the occupier, confirms that dealing with this occupier requires a new path that would place the [Jordan-Israel] peace treaty at stake,” Jordanian House Speaker Atef Tarawneh was quoted as saying by the official news agency Petra.
Netanyahu reportedly informed the United States before making his announcement on annexing the Jordan Valley and hinted that the move was supported by the Trump administration. Netanyahu, however, drew criticism from Moscow ahead of a trip to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Netanyahu’s anti-Palestinian rhetoric did not stop at the West Bank. Two days after vowing to annex the Jordan Valley, the Israeli prime minister said another war in Gaza was inevitable because of rocket fire from the besieged Palestinian enclave. “We will probably have no choice but to set out on a big campaign, a war against the terror forces in Gaza,” said Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s electioneering drew criticism from Palestinian citizens of Israel, often referred to as Arab Israelis. He accused them of being engaged in voter fraud and pushed for a parliamentary bill that would have cameras installed in polling stations in their areas.
The move was seen as a bid to intimidate Palestinian citizens of Israel from voting but the bill failed to pass in parliament.
Separately, Facebook said Netanyahu’s page had violated the platform’s hate-speech policy by allowing a post that accused Arabs of “want[ing] to destroy us all — women, children and men.”
Netanyahu distanced himself from the post. “I have friends in Arab countries and I have respect for human beings regardless of whether they are Jewish or Arab, Muslim or Christian,” he said.