Blue & White leader Benny Gantz said on Tuesday, January 21, that if he succeeds in forming a ruling government after the March 2 election and becomes prime minister he will seek to annex the occupied Palestinian Jordan Valley, and would attempt to do so in “coordination with the international community.” Speaking during a tour of the region, the head of Blue & White described the Jordan Valley, which lies along the eastern edge of the West Bank, as “the State of Israel’s eastern defensive wall in any future scenario,” and said that it is “an inseparable part of the State of Israel.”
During his tour of the Jordan Valley, Gantz also seemed to do a U-turn on his opposition to the publication of the Trump peace plan during the current election campaign. Asked about the possibility that the long-awaited “Deal of the Century” plan would soon be published, Gantz said, “I hope that President Trump will bring this forward and publish the plan,” adding “several weeks have gone past. In the Middle East many dramatic things are happening, I expect the plan will be published.” However, two weeks ago, Gantz said that publication of the plan would be “gross intervention in the election process of the State of Israel.”
Following Gantz’s latest remarks about the need to annex the Jordan Valley, far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and several other right-wing and settler leaders, immediately challenged him to prove his commitment to what would be a highly controversial step owing to the Palestinian expectation that this area would eventually be part of a Palestinian state. They called on Gantz to agree to immediately implement annexation of the Jordan Valley through the Knesset. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has previously frowned on such a move during the time of a transitional caretaker government.
Hadash and Joint List expressed outrage and intense opposition to Gantz’s newly announced stance. Joint List leader, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) described Gantz’s pledge as “a pathetic attempt to gather a few votes on the right,” and said that annexing the Jordan Valley would “destroy any chance for democracy and peace.” Hadash MK Ofer Cassif said, “If this is the response to the hollow spin of the right-wing it shows a lack of self-confidence. The Joint List is not in the pocket of Mr. Gantz.” Cassif jibed, “Either way it clearly shows that voters of the peace camp have nothing to look for in Blue & White.”
The Palestinian Jordan valley is an area of 1,622 square km and constitutes 28% of the area of the entire West Bank. It is home to nearly 65,000 Palestinians, including the population of the city of Jericho, which accounts for 2% of the Palestinian West Bank population, according to official data. For Palestinians, the Jordan Valley, which borders with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the east, is a vital and integral part of their future state for its strategic location and its fertile lands.
UN data show there are 31 Jewish-only Israeli settlements built in the Jordan Valley, most of which are agriculturally-based, which are home to some 8,000 settlers. Since its occupation in 1967, Israel has set up some 90 military posts in the area and forcefully evicted around 50,000 Palestinians. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that Israel has unilaterally declared about 20% of the area as nature reserves, has taken over large areas in the north of the valley to build the separation wall, and uses 56% of its area for military purposes.