Netanyahu vows to go ahead with West Bank annexation

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday confirmed his plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in the coming months, ignoring the growing condemnations by key allies. Israeli media quoted him as saying he would act in July.

Netanyahu pointed out that Israel had a “historic opportunity” to redraw the Mideast map. “This is an opportunity that we will not let pass,” he told members of his conservative Likud party. The Israeli leader’s new coalition deal includes an official clause allowing him to present his annexation plan to the government in July. Netanyahu spoke a day after beginning his trial on corruption charges.

The Palestinians, with wide international backing, seek the entire West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state. Annexing large chunks of this territory would all but destroy the faint remaining hopes of a two-state solution.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war. It has settled nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers in the territory, but never formally claimed it as an Israeli territory due to stiff international opposition. But the US President Donald Trump administration has taken a much softer line toward Israeli settlements than its predecessors. Trump’s Mideast team is dominated by advisers with close ties to the settlements, and his plan, unveiled in January, envisions leaving some 30% of the territory under permanent Israeli control while giving the Palestinians expanded autonomy in the rest of the area. The Palestinians have rejected the plan, saying it is unfairly biased toward Israel.

With Trump’s re-election prospects uncertain this November, Israeli hard-liners have urged Netanyahu to move ahead with annexation quickly. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the US presidential elections, recently said that annexation would “choke off” hopes for a two-state solution.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said annexation would violate international law and vowed to use “all our diplomatic capacities” to stop it.

The Palestinians last week cut off security ties, a valuable tool in a shared struggled against Islamic militants, with Israel to protest the annexation plan.

Saudi Arabia, an influential Arab country that maintains behind-the-scenes relations with Israel, announced its “rejection of the Israeli measures and plans to annex Palestinian lands.”

The Arab League has condemned it as a “war crime,” and both Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab countries at peace with Israel, have harshly criticized it.

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