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Netanyahu Vows To Annex Part Of West Bank If He Is Reelected


Israel's prime minister has sharpened his promise to annex part of the West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made that promise as he seeks reelection. Next week, Israelis vote for the second time this year after their first vote was inconclusive a few months ago. Netanyahu promised annexation back then in the first campaign. And now he's saying which land that Israel would claim for itself. NPR's Daniel Estrin is on the line from Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.


INSKEEP: What is the promise exactly?

ESTRIN: He's saying that if he wins reelections, Israel would immediately apply its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea region. So let me just paint that map for you. We're talking about a long strip of land. It's on the edge of the West Bank. It borders Jordan. We're talking about 30% of the West Bank. There are Israeli settlements there, but there are also tens of thousands of Palestinians in that area that Israel wants to annex. It's a very agriculturally rich area, so Israel will be essentially taking away what Palestinians consider the bread basket of their future state. Now, Israelis would say this is a strategic area. This is not as contentious as other settlements in the heart of the West Bank. And Netanyahu says that it would give Israel a permanent eastern border. But, of course, annexing occupied land is controversial. Netanyahu is saying to the Israeli electorate, I have the close ties with Trump to pull this off.

INSKEEP: I've got this map that you drew in my head here, and I'm thinking about this, Daniel. Palestinians want the West Bank land for this future state. It is land that would effectively be beside Israel the way we have imagined it up to now, but with this Israeli annexation of part of it, would Israel actually just about surround the Palestinian territory? Is that right?

ESTRIN: It is. Netanyahu presented a map yesterday, and you look at it and you see his vision of the future Israel completely surrounding the West Bank with Palestinians kind of looking like Swiss cheese with Palestinians needing - having enclaves within that area, needing passageways out of it.

INSKEEP: What would this mean for the various efforts for some kind of peace plan, some kind of two-state or not quite two-state solution?

ESTRIN: Well, a U.N. spokesman said this would be devastating to the potential of revising peace negotiations. The U.S.' biggest allies in the region are objecting, like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and Jordan. The Palestinian leadership, of course, is against it. And, you know, it goes against the most of the world's position, which is that the fate of this land should be decided not in unilateral moves but in peace talks. You mentioned a two-state solution. It seems that the prospects for that are very remote, and if Israel annexes this land, it might become even more remote.

INSKEEP: If Israel annexes this land. Is Netanyahu sure to do this if his party were to win enough of Israel's (unintelligible) to be in control?

ESTRIN: That's the right question to ask, Steve, because his political rivals are calling his bluff. They're saying this is a cheap ploy by Netanyahu. He's trying to attract more right-wing voters at a really critical time when he's basically hanging by a thread. Because in the last elections a few months ago, he couldn't secure a majority. And now polls predict a similar outcome. So Netanyahu - his rivals (ph) say Netanyahu's just trying to distract from the real issues.

INSKEEP: What is the U.S. saying, if anything?

ESTRIN: Very curiously, the Trump administration is not rejecting this announcement, but it's not welcoming it either. It says it's about to present a peace plan right after elections.

INSKEEP: Daniel, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: And for the explanation, that's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.