Jordan says peace treaty ‘at stake’ – OIC to meet over ‘escalation’ – Syria slams expansionism

KUWAIT/CAIRO: Arab and Muslim countries yesterday led a wave of outcry after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to annex a key part of the occupied West Bank if reelected. Netanyahu’s controversial pledge involves extending Israel’s sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea which account for one-third of the West Bank if he wins next week’s elections. It would not include however annexing any Palestinian cities such as Jericho. The pre-election promise late Tuesday drew immediate condemnation from Arab powerhouses with many warning of disastrous consequences for the stagnant Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Kuwait condemned yesterday “in the strongest possible terms” Netanyahu’s plans. A source from the foreign ministry said in a statement that such an announcement is a serious and flagrant violation of the Palestinian peoples’ rights, a violation of international law, the charter of the United Nations and relevant resolutions of international legitimacy. The official noted that Netanyahu’s statements represent a violation of all efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace.
He stressed the need for the international community to take its legal responsibilities in rejecting this declaration and considering it as “void with no legal effects on the legitimate and historical rights of the Palestinian people.” The source concluded by affirming Kuwait’s principled and firm stance in support of the Palestinian issue to establish an independent Palestinian state on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital in accordance with international laws, the Arab Peace Initiative and international legitimacy.

“The announcement constitutes a dangerous development and a new Israeli aggression,” Arab foreign ministers said. They also warned in a statement of “the ramifications of these dangerous, illegal and irresponsible” moves saying it would “undermine the chances of progress in the peace process”. Jordanian and Palestinian officials said any such measure risks “killing off” and “destroying” the entire peace process.
Jordan’s house speaker Atef Al-Tawarneh went as far as to warn yesterday that any such move could even put the country’s peace treaty with Israel – only one of two with Israel’s neighbors – “at stake”.

Palestinian leaders said Netanyahu was destroying any hopes for peace, while senior official Hanan Ashrawi said the plans were “worse than apartheid”. Damascus “strongly condemned” Netanyahu’s vow, with a Syrian foreign ministry source telling the state news agency SANA that it was an “expansionist” plan in “flagrant violation” of international treaties.
Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War in a move never recognized by the international community. It also seized – and later annexed – part of the Golan Heights from Syria, and the two countries remain technically at war. Saudi Arabia flagged the announcement as a “dangerous escalation”, and convened an “emergency meeting” of the foreign ministers of the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah on Sunday to discuss the issue.

United Arab Emirates’ foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan denounced Netanyahu’s proposal as “electoral exploitation in the most heinous form”. While the Gulf Cooperation Council’s chief Abdellatif Al-Zayani, characterized the Israeli prime minister’s rhetoric as a “dangerous and aggressive provocation”.

Beyond the Arab world, Turkey slammed Netanyahu’s pledge as “racist”. Ankara would “defend (the) rights and interests of our Palestinian brothers and sisters till the end,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The United Nations remonstrated that Netanyahu’s plan would have no “international legal effect”. Meanwhile, the European Union said the pledge undermines any prospects for peace. “The policy of settlement construction and expansion… is illegal under international law and its continuation, and actions taken in this context, undermine the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement.

Netanyahu’s main opponents in the election, the centrist Blue and White alliance, along with others called the announcement an obvious attempt to win rightwing nationalist votes, which will be key for the premier’s Likud party. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has previously spoken of the Jordan Valley remaining under Israeli control forever, but he called Netanyahu’s announcement an “empty declaration” that would amount to nothing.

Politicians from smaller parties on the far-right who are competing with Netanyahu for votes called it too little and too late. “Why talk about annexation one week before the elections when the government can decide to apply it when it wants, and even today?” said Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich, part of the far-right Yamina alliance in the upcoming vote. However the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, said it was an “historic event”.
When announcing his pledge, the Israeli prime minister said he would take the step in coordination with his ally, US President Donald Trump. But by yesterday morning there had still been no official US reaction to Netanyahu’s latest statements. Israel has enjoyed a strong US support under the Trump administration which in a highly controversial move overturned decades of US policy to recognize the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in 2017.

Earlier in 2019, Trump also declared Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, along with the West Bank and east Jerusalem. More than 600,000 Israeli Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, among three million Palestinians. Arab and Muslim leaders have unanimously decried the US moves backing Netanyahu’s policies, insisting instead on achieving a two-state solution with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been tasked with hammering out a peace plan to resolve the bitter conflict. The plan’s economic aspects were unveiled at a Bahrain conference in June, floating the prospect of pumping some $50 billion worth of investment into a stagnant Palestinian economy. It failed however to address key Palestinian demands and it remains unclear when Kushner’s full plan will be rolled out.

Netanyahu’s announcement was only the start of a tense evening. Later Tuesday night, Netanyahu was hustled off stage at a campaign rally when sirens warning of incoming rockets blared in the southern city of Ashdod. Both rockets fired from Gaza were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, and Netanyahu later returned to the stage after the all-clear, saying Hamas was scared of him winning the election. Israel later bombed Hamas positions in Gaza in response, causing no casualties. Yesterday, three more rockets were fired toward Israel from Gaza, the army said, and an Israeli tank retaliated by striking two Hamas posts. There were no reports of casualties.

Recent days have also seen a controversial push by Netanyahu to pass legislation that would allow party officials to bring cameras into polling places during the election. The legislation drew outrage from opposition parties, and critics labeled a clear attempt to depress turnout among the Arab population as it could intimidate many into staying away. A vote on the bill failed in parliament yesterday, but before that the head of the mainly Arab Joint List alliance, Ayman Odeh, approached Netanyahu and stuck his phone in front his face to film him. Odeh was removed from the chamber. – Agencies