Netanyahu: West Bank to be annexed ‘within weeks’ of re-election

Israeli prime minister renews pledge before elections to claim sovereignty over Jordan Valley

walk along a pedestrian overpass beneath a giant Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance electoral billboard showing the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) flanked by Justice Minister Amir Ohana (L) and Education Minister Rafi Peretz (R) in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan on March 1, 2020, a day before the country's third election in a year.  / AFP / MENAHEM KAHANA
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex vast areas of the occupied West Bank “within weeks”, a day before Israelis go to the polls.

Neck to neck in with rival Benny Gantz, Mr Netanyahu renewed his pledge to annex the strategically crucial Jordan Valley and other parts of the West Bank, saying the move was his priority among "four major immediate missions".

"That will happen within weeks, two months at the most, I hope," he told his country's public radio before Israelis vote in their third election in a year.

Mr Netanyahu, who has been accused of making ambitious, 11th-hour pledges in elections, also called for the annexation ahead of September’s repeat parliamentary poll.

And after the unveiling of US President Donald Trump’s contentious Middle East peace plan in January, Mr Netanyahu promised his Cabinet would vote on annexation.

The Israeli leader, 70, has been emboldened by the US plan, which essentially gives Israel permission to annex the Jordan Valley by granting it control of long-contested West Bank settlements.

As part of the process, Washington has proposed a committee to set out the exact borders of the territory in question.

"The joint US-Israeli mapping committee started work a week ago," Mr Netanyahu said.

He has been in the political fight of his life over the course of successive inconclusive elections in April and September.

In November, Mr Netanyahu, who has spent 14 years as prime minister, became the only head of government in Israel's history to be indicted while in office.

In response to his claims over annexation, former Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has accused the prime minister of making baseless promises.

Experts say the annexation move would inflame regional tension and damage ties with Jordan, one of only two Arab countries with which Israel has agreed to a peace deal. The other is Egypt.

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