Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to begin annexing parts of the West Bank reveals the Israeli prime minister’s increasingly desperate fight to win over right-wing voters ahead of elections, as well as his belief that the Trump administration would back even his most radical moves, experts said.

“Netanyahu wouldn’t have dared to say what he did during the Obama, Clinton and Bush administrations,” said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics. “Trump is a godsend as an American president for Netanyahu and the Israeli far-right.”

An embattled Netanyahu announced Tuesday that if he is re-elected he would “immediately” extend sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, an agriculturally-rich area that runs along the easternmost part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank near the border with Jordan. He made a similar pledge in April.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Oded Balilty / AP

He would then attempt to annex other Jewish settlements in the hotly contested region that was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

The West Bank is home to almost 3 million Palestinians and more than 400,000 Israelis, according to figures collated by Peace Now, an Israeli organization that advocates a two-state solution.

The prime minister described the Trump’s administration’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to annex territory in the West Bank and sought to persuade voters that only he could deliver the pledge due to his close personal relationship with the president.

“We have not had such an opportunity since the Six Day War and doubt it will be for the next 50 years,” said Netanyahu, referring to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war in which Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights.

Since assuming office President Donald Trump has moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights, prompting the Palestinians to sever ties with the administration. And U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman — who has ties to the right-wing settler movement — reportedly indicated this year that Israel has the right to annex at least some of the West Bank.

“This is entirely being done because he’s not being stopped,” said Diana Buttu, a former adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and an Israeli citizen. “This time the U.S. administration is not a deterrent but is just a green light.”

Israel’s government informed the U.S. before Netanyahu’s announcement and does not believe that it rules out an Israeli-Palestinian political settlement, a Trump administration official told NBC News on Tuesday.

The official added that the U.S. was not changing its policy toward the West Bank at this time.

Paul Goldman and Lawahez Jabari contributed.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here