Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swathe of the occupied West Bank, if he wins a closely contested election just a week away, Reuters reported on Tuesday, September 10th.
"Today, 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 in a speech broadcast live on Israeli TV channels, calling the area "Israel's eastern border".
That step, he said, could be taken "immediately after the election if I receive a clear mandate to do so from you, the citizens of Israel".
Palestinian chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat called the planned move a war crime under international law governing the occupied territory. Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war and Palestinians seek to make the area part of a future state.
Israeli political commentators saw Netanyahu's declaration, in a speech broadcast live on Israel's main TV channels, as a bid to siphon support away from other far-right rivals who have long advocated the annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Arab League foreign ministers condemned Netanyahu's plan, saying it would undermine any chance of progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The United Nations (UN) warned Netanyahu that his plan to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if re-elected would have no "international legal effect."
"The secretary-general's position has always been clear: unilateral actions are not helpful in the peace process," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
"Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace, and the very essence of a two-state solution."
The Jordan Valley accounts for around one-third of the West Bank, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War, a move never recognised by the international community.
Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.
Fighting for his political career after an inconclusive election in April, Netanyahu also reaffirmed a pledge to annex all of the settlements Israel has established in the territory. However, he said that a broader step could take longer and required "maximum coordination" with Washington, Israel's close ally.