Netanyahu approves Jordan Valley annexation bill after U.S. changes policy

Approval of bill by Netanyahu comes following change in US stance regarding the legality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank

Benjamin Netanyahu and Mike Pompeo meet at the UN Security Council, September 26, 2018 (photo credit: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Mike Pompeo meet at the UN Security Council, September 26, 2018
(photo credit: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his approval on Tuesday to advance a bill that would have Israel apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, after the US State Department reversed its stance of viewing Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria as illegal.
Netanyahu called US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision “historic” during a visit the day after the announcement to the Gush Etzion region. The UN and others condemned Pompeo’s statement.
Likud MK Sharren Haskel proposed the annexation bill weeks ago, but decided to fast-track it in light of the change in US policy.
“The bill has the prime minister’s full backing,” Haskel said.
In the days before the September 17 election, Netanyahu announced that if re-elected, he would annex the Jordan Valley, and his cabinet voted to legalize the Mevo’ot Yeriho outpost in the Jordan Valley as a new settlement.
Haskel submitted a request to exempt her bill to annex the Jordan Valley from the mandatory six-week waiting period for any new legislation so that it can go to a vote in the plenum next week. The request will be subject to a vote in the Knesset Arrangements Committee, led by Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn while his party’s leader Benny Gantz has the mandate to build a government.
Haskel called on Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu and Labor-Gesher to join the Likud’s efforts to annex the Jordan Valley, “in light of the one-time-only chance that we have before us” with US President Donald Trump’s administration.
“I call on them to stand behind their promises and words, and vote together with the Likud on applying sovereignty,” Haskel said. “There is no reason that this important bill won’t pass in the plenum with an 80-MK majority.”
Sitting at a folding table in Gush Etzion looking out at the settler leaders who came to celebrate with him, Netanyahu said the announcement was “a very great day for the State of Israel and an achievement that will stand for generations. The Trump administration has corrected a historical injustice and lined up with truth and justice. I thank President [Donald] Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo.”
Netanyahu compared the policy decision with two other significant decisions Trump has taken on behalf of Israel: relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman told Netanyahu that the US declaration was a “great step forward” for the application of sovereignty on Judea and Samaria.
“I admit that I am very moved,” Netanyahu said. “We are here, in Gush Etzion, a place from which we were expelled during the War of Independence. Here we are on a historic day with another tremendous achievement for the State of Israel, for which we have worked greatly.”
The UN human rights office rejected the Trump administration’s new position.
“We continue to follow the long-standing position of the UN that Israeli settlements are in breach of international law,” UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing. “A change in the policy position of one state does not modify existing international law nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the Security Council.”
The International Court of Justice, in an advisory opinion issued in 2004, said that Israeli towns in the administered territories, including east Jerusalem, were established in breach of international law.
The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 – which both the United States and Israel have ratified – establishes that an occupying power shall not transfer civilians into the territory it occupies, Colville said.
Israel considers the West Bank disputed, not occupied, territory.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the change of policy in a statement on Tuesday, warning the move would escalate tensions in the region.
Moscow’s stance is that such settlements on Palestinian territory are illegal under international law, it said.
Already on Monday night, outgoing European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini shot back at the Trump administration, declaring that “all settlement activity is illegal under international law, and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334. The EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.”
The European Union and the United Nations have long held that all Israeli settlement activity is illegal. They have included in this all Israeli activity over the pre-1967 lines.
Reuters contributed to this report.