Netanyahu Says Cabinet Will Vote on Settlement Annexation Only After Israel's Election

In Washington, the PM promised a vote on applying Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements within days, but faced with backlash from the U.S. and the EU, he now asks supporters to 'go out and vote to make it happen'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda February 3, 2020.
STRINGER/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he would only ask the government to approve the proposed annexation of the Jordan Valley after Israel’s March 2 election, effectively reversing earlier statements made by Likud officials who vowed to pass such a resolution as early as this week.

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Speaking at an election campaign rally in the central city of Beit Shemesh, Netanyahu said his party “won’t let such a great opportunity slip. We brought it and we’re here to make it happen, but in order to secure it, to secure Israel’s borders, to secure Israel’s future, I need … all Likud members to go out and vote.”

While in Washington for the unveiling of U.S. President Donald Trump's Mideast plan, Netanyahu said that the first stage of applying Israeli sovereignty to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea will be brought before the government within days.

The debate over annexation heightened after Trump unveiled his administration's long-awaited peace proposal last week, which would allow Israel to annex all its West Bank settlements — which the Palestinians and most of the international community view as illegal — as well as the Jordan Valley, which accounts for roughly a quarter of the West Bank.

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said that he hopes Israel will not annex settlements before the upcoming election. Kushner said the United States is preparing to discuss the technical details of annexation with Israel, but that this discussion "will take time." 

Netanyahu's latest statement comes after the European Union's foreign policy chief said Tuesday that Israeli steps toward annexation of the Jordan Valley and parts of the West Bank, should they be implemented, "could not pass unchallenged."

"In line with international law and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the EU does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied since 1967," said Josep Borrell in response to promises by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push for applying Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank before the country's third election.

Last week, Netanyahu’s spokesman tweeted — but then deleted — that the first stage of applying Israeli sovereignty to settlements will be brought before the government on Sunday, but ministers from Netanyahu’s party were later told that the meeting would be pushed back to Tuesady “over technical reasons.” 

A senior member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's entourage said earlier this week that Israel is inquiring with the U.S. about the possibility of annexation before its March 2 election.

Netanyahu had initially said last week that the first stage of applying Israeli sovereignty to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea will be brought before the government on the February 2. However, hours later, sources in his Likud party said the issue would not be brought before the cabinet that day.

Later, Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin contradicted Netanyahu’s assertion, saying that the reason for the delay was technical, and explained that bringing the proposal to a vote “requires time to prepare and work on the different documents.”