In what appears to be a last-ditch effort to shore up the support of his right-wing base ahead of national elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Tuesday to annex the Jordan Valley with the help of the U.S. government.
"This is a historic opportunity to apply sovereignty to communities in Judea and Samaria," Netanyahu told reporters, according to NBC News. (Netanyahu's use of the names "Judea" and "Samaria" refer to the biblical names of the West Bank territory.)
"I request a mandate to apply Jewish sovereignty to all communities, and I intend to do so in coordination with the United States,” Netanhayu added.
Some viewed Netanyhu’s vows as electioneering, as he makes his closing arguments before voters head to the polls next week.
"Netanyahu’s statement today about annexing the Jordan Valley on the day after the election and then proceeding with applying sovereignty to all West Bank settlement (sic) after the Trump plan is electioneering," Michael Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, tweeted on Tuesday. “None of this is happening today and he can’t do it unilaterally.”
Koplow added, "But that doesn’t make what he did any less dangerous. It was brilliant politics, and even if he can’t or doesn’t see it through, it will have a more damaging long-term effect by shifting the Overton window on this issue. What makes Jordan Valley first so smart is that it can be painted as a security issue rather than an ideological one. The Jordan Valley is important security-wise, and a two-state deal will have some provision for an Israeli security presence there for that reason. To come out against this can be easily spun as coming out against Israel’s fundamental security needs, which is why this puts Benny Gantz in the trickiest possible position."
Gantz is Netanyahu's chief rival for the role of prime minister. In May, the Knesset (Israel's legislative body) passed a bill dissolving itself and mandating that new elections be held after Netanyahu was unable to form a governing coalition in the previous round of elections.
For a prime minister to be elected in Israel, he or she must receive a majority of the votes in the 120-member Knesset. Although parties backing Netanyahu garnered 65 votes in April’s elections compared to 55 votes for Gantz, Netanyahu ran into trouble when Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, insisted that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men be required to serve in the Israeli military. Because Netanyahu was unable to convince this bloc to change its position, and the Yisrael Beiteinu party controlled five seats, Netanyahu fell one vote shy of the majority coalition necessary to be re-elected to another term. It was the first time in Israeli history that snap elections were called after an apparently victorious candidate was unable to maintain his or her governing coalition.
The stakes for Netanyahu involve more than just his political career. Prior to April’s elections, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he was indicting Netanyahu on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. Netanyahu had been working on passing an immunity bill that would protect him from prosecution so long as he remains in office, one which had the backing of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.