On Eve of Netanyahu-Putin Meeting, Russia Joins in Condemning Annexation Plan

The Israeli leader's election pledge risks 'sharp escalation in the region,' Moscow says

Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2019.
Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via Reuters

The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned Wedenesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to annex parts of the West Bank, a day before the Israeli leader is slated to meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. 

Netanyahu’s plan to annex the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea, if implemented, might lead to a “sharp escalation of tensions in the region,” as well as “undermine hopes for the establishment of long-awaited peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors,” AFP reported.

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The Israeli prime minister's one-day visit was announced on Tuesday, and his office said he is expected to discuss security matters related to Iran, Syria and Lebanon with Putin.

Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry also said Wednesday Netanyahu's annexations plans and his frequent accusations against Tehran were ploys to win reelection, the semi-official news agency Tasnim reported.

"Netanyahu seeks votes to stay in power through accusations against Iran and later he announces a malicious intent to annex yet another part of Palestine so he can stay in power and carry on with expansionism and aggression," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by Tasnim.

Palestinian students participate in a morning exercise at their school in Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 11, 2019.
\ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

Saudi Arabia also issued a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, calling Netanyahu’s plan a "very dangerous escalation," adding to a chorus of international condemnations and injecting the issue of Palestinian statehood into an election campaign that had all but ignored it.

Netanyahu said Tuesday in a press conference he'd extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley if he is reelected in the vote next Tuesday and would move to annex Jewish settlements. Critics said this could inflame the Middle East and eliminate any remaining Palestinian hope of establishing a separate state.

Netanyahu has made similar pledges to annex West Bank settlements before and hasn't followed through. The move was widely viewed in Israel as Netanyahu's latest campaign stunt to try and draw in more right-wing voters. It appeared unlikely to spark a major reaction in the Arab world, where championing the Palestinian cause has waned in favor of more pressing regional concerns.

But Jordan and the United Nations immediately rejected the proposal and Saudi Arabia made it clear that "there is no peace without the return of the occupied Palestinian territories" as it called for an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers.

"The Arab and Islamic worlds' preoccupation with many local and regional crises will not affect the status of the Palestinian cause," the royal court said in a statement. "Israel's attempts to impose a fait accompli policy will not obliterate the inalienable and protected rights of the Palestinian people."

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press on September 10, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Turkey's Foreign Ministry joined in denouncing Netanyahu, calling his statement "a new manifestation of Israel's decades-long occupation and unlawful practices." Ankara called on the international community "not to remain silent."

The 57-nation Organization for Islamic Cooperation also condemned Netanyahu's proposal, saying it would convene to "take urgent political and legal measures to address this aggressive Israeli position."

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council likewise condemned Netanyahu's announcement. Some members of the GCC, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, had been edging closer to forming open ties with Israel in recent years — something Netanyahu himself had touted as one of his major diplomatic achievements.

Yafit settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in the Jordan Valley, September 11, 2019.
AFP

Netanyahu said it was important to act now as President Donald Trump prepares to unveil his Mideast peace plan after the September 17 elections in Israel.

The Jordan Valley is relatively sparsely populated and seen by Israel as a key strategic asset since it provides a buffer zone against potential attacks from the east. 

Netanyahu did not detail what would happen to the Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley if he went forward with his plan.

Reuters contributed to this report.