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Anger at Netanyahu's West Bank annexation pledge

CAIRO, Egypt (3rd UPDATE) – Arab and Muslim countries Wednesday, September 11, led a wave of outcry after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to annex a key part of the occupied West Bank if reelected.

Netanyahu's controversial pledge involves extending Israel's sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea which account for one-third of the West Bank if he wins next week's elections. It would not include however annexing any Palestinian cities such as Jericho.

The preelection promise late Tuesday, September 10, drew immediate condemnation from Arab powerhouses with many warning of disastrous consequences for the stagnant Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

"The announcement constitutes a dangerous development and a new Israeli aggression," Arab foreign ministers said.

They also warned in a statement of "the ramifications of these dangerous, illegal and irresponsible" moves saying it would "undermine the chances of progress in the peace process."

Jordanian and Palestinian officials said any such measure risks "killing off" and "destroying" the entire peace process.

Jordan's house speaker Atef al-Tawarneh went as far as to warn on Wednesday that any such move could even put the country's peace treaty with Israel – only one of two with Israel's neighbors – "at stake."

Damascus "strongly condemned" Netanyahu's vow, with a Syrian foreign ministry source telling the state news agency SANA that it was an "expansionist" plan in "flagrant violation" of international treaties.

Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War in a move never recognized by the international community.

It also seized – and later annexed – part of the Golan Heights from Syria, and the two countries remain technically at war.

'Racist' move

Saudi Arabia flagged the announcement as a "dangerous escalation," and convened an "emergency meeting" of the foreign ministers of the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah on Sunday, September 15, to discuss the issue.

United Arab Emirates' foreign minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan denounced Netanyahu's proposal as "electoral exploitation in the most heinous form."

While the Gulf Cooperation Council's chief Abdellatif al-Zayani, characterized the Israeli prime minister's rhetoric as a "dangerous and aggressive provocation."

Beyond the Arab world, Turkey slammed Netanyahu's pledge as "racist."

Ankara would "defend (the) rights and interests of our Palestinian brothers and sisters till the end," said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The United Nations remonstrated that Netanyahu's plan would have no "international legal effect."

Meanwhile, the European Union said the pledge undermines any prospects for peace.

"The policy of settlement construction and expansion...is illegal under international law and its continuation, and actions taken in this context, undermine the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace," an EU spokesperson said in a statement.

US support

When announcing his pledge, the Israeli prime minister said he would take the step in coordination with his ally, US President Donald Trump.

But by Wednesday morning there had still been no official US reaction to Netanyahu's latest statements.

Israel has enjoyed a strong US support under the Trump administration which in a highly controversial move overturned decades of US policy to recognize the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in 2017.

Earlier in 2019, Trump also declared Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, along with the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

More than 600,000 Israeli Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, among 3 million Palestinians.

Arab and Muslim leaders have unanimously decried the US moves backing Netanyahu's policies, insisting instead on achieving a two-state solution with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner has been tasked with hammering out a peace plan to resolve the bitter conflict.

The plan's economic aspects were unveiled at a Bahrain conference in June, floating the prospect of pumping some $50 billion worth of investment into a stagnant Palestinian economy.

It failed however to address key Palestinian demands and it remains unclear when Kushner's full plan will be rolled out. – Rappler.com