Israeli PM’s annexation plan draws condemnation from Palestinian, Arab leaders

CAIRO/JERUSALEM – Palestinian and Arab leaders on Tuesday condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex the occupied Jordan Valley in the West Bank, while warning it could kill the peace process.

Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he would annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank right after Israel’s Sept 17 election, if he wins re-election.

“I intend to apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea immediately after the elections,” Netanyahu said in a televised speech.

In angry reaction, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that all peace agreements will end if Netanyahu moves to annex the Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea or any part of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

“We have the right to defend our rights and achieve our goals by all available means, whatever the results are, since Netanyahu’s decisions contradict the international legitimacy and international law,” the Palestinians leader said.

Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Saeb Erekat warned that Netanyahu’s plan to annex part of the occupied West Bank will bury any chance of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

“If Netanyahu is allowed to implement his plan of annexation, he will succeed in burying any chance of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. The Israeli and the international community must stop such madness,” Erekat tweeted.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Ishtaye also issued a statement, denouncing Netanyahu as a “destroyer of the peace process.”

The 2,400-sq-km Jordan Valley, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of the West Bank, is regarded to be strategic both in terms of security and agriculture.

If Netanyahu moves to annex part of the West Bank, it would be a major shift from Israel’s long-held policy and is set to trigger strong criticism from Arab countries and the international community, and even escalate violent clashes with the Palestinians.

On Tuesday night, Netanyahu was whisked off the stage of an election rally, which was part of the Likud’s campaign ahead of the Sept 17 parliamentary elections, after rockets fired from Gaza Strip triggered air raid sirens in the southern city of Ashdod.

Video footages taken at the rally showed people running in panic and security guards escorting Netanyahu off the stage.

A spokesperson with Netanyahu’s Likud party told Xinhua that Netanyahu later returned to the stage to finish his speech.

No group in Gaza immediately claimed responsibility for firing the rockets, which Israeli army said were intercepted by Israel’s anti-rocket Iron Dome system.

The Islamic Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, earlier accused Netanyahu of selling “illusion” to Israeli voters by vowing to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

“Netanyahu is searching for the right-wing votes throughout selling his audience the illusion that he would keep the occupation of our land forever,” said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem.

He also underscored the need to forge “a unified Palestinian position that adopts comprehensive resistance” against the Israeli plan to annex part of the occupied Palestinian territories of West Bank.

Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers, who held a meeting in Cairo, Egypt under the framework of the Arab League, condemned Netanyahu’s plan as “a new Israeli offensive” that undermines peace chances.

The ministers vowed they are prepared to take all legal and political actions to counter this unilateral Israeli policy.

They also reaffirmed their adherence to the principles of the Arab position that supports the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Currently, about 400,000 Jewish settlers live in some heavily guarded communities in the West Bank among some 2.8 million Palestinians.

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