British Jewish groups criticise Netanyahu’s vow to annex part of West Bank

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British Jewish groups criticise Netanyahu’s vow to annex part of West Bank

Progressive rabbis and Yachad among those to speak out against the Israeli PM's latest statement about extending Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley

Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference announcing the planned expansion
Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference announcing the planned expansion

Progressive rabbis and Zionist activists in the UK have criticised Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley if he is re-elected next week.

Senior Reform and Liberal rabbis said the announcement was “a direct threat to the viability of a two-state solution” that would “alienate the Diaspora,” which had no desire to impose sovereignty over a third of the West Bank.

In his comments on Tuesday, which seemed aimed at galvanising the prime minister’s right-wing support base ahead of next week’s election, Netanyahu said annexing large chunks of the West Bank was now an “historic opportunity”.

He said he wanted to wait for Donald Trump’s US peace plan “out of respect” before annexing more sensitive areas, but that Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, a 2,000 mile strip of land comprising 30 percent of the West Bank, could be applied “immediately… if I receive a clear mandate to do so from the citizens of Israel”.

The arid valley, which runs from the Dead Sea in the south to Beit Shean in the north, has been controlled by Israel since June 1967, but the harsh environment means only 8,000 Israelis live there in dozens of small agricultural communities.

In a rare statement on the politics of Israel, Jewish religious leaders in the UK said snatching sovereignty would widen the schism between Israeli and non-Israeli Jews.

“Evidence shows that the vast majority of British Jews are firmly against any Israeli expansion in the West Bank,” Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism and Senior Liberal Rabbi Danny Rich.

“Such rhetoric represents both an immoral intention and yet another move that will alienate diaspora support for Israel.”

Yachad, a Zionist group opposed to settlement expansion, said the announcement “shows the extent to which Netanyahu is willing to completely undermine the possibility of any kind of resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict”.

A spokeswoman added that “annexation of the West Bank, partial or full, would make the State of Israel responsible for the daily lives of almost three million Palestinians living inside the West Bank”.

In Israel, the reaction was similar. Senior Arab politician Ayman Odeh said it was “a vision of apartheid,” while left-wing Democratic Union said it was “strange that someone who is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust remembered such a dramatic move less than a week before the election”.

An Israel Democracy Index poll last month showed the public torn on the issue, with 48 percent of Jewish Israelis supporting the annexation of Area C if it has Trump’s blessing, compared to 28 percent of Jewish Israelis against it.

The data showed a predictable split down political lines, with almost 80 percent of left-wing Jewish Israelis opposed to annexation, while only 15 percent of right-wing Israeli Jews against the idea.

The same poll showed Jewish Israelis’ preference would be to transfer Palestinians who live in Area C to areas under Palestinian Authority control in the event of annexation. Arab Israelis by contrast favour granting full citizenship rights to those Palestinians living in Area C who would opt to stay there if it were annexed.

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