Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel has the “full right” to annex the Jordan Valley if it chose to, even as the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court warned the country against taking the bold step.
Netanyahu said his proposal to annex the strategic area was discussed during a late-night meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He said they also agreed to move forward with plans for a joint defense treaty.
The move would surely draw condemnation from the Palestinians and much of the world. The Jordan Valley comprises some 25 percent of Yehuda and Shomron, and is seen as the territory’s breadbasket and one of the few remaining open areas that could be developed by the Palestinians.
But many Israelis say the area is vital to the country’s security, providing a layer of protection along its eastern flank.
In her annual report, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned Israel against annexing the territory. “The Office has also followed with concern proposals advanced during the recent electoral process, to be tabled to the Knesset, for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley in the West Bank,” she wrote.
When asked by reporters about it, Netanyahu insisted that it is Israel’s “full right to do so, if we chose so.”
Netanyahu called their 1 hour and 45 minute-meeting in Lisbon “critical to Israeli security.”
In particular, he noted the progress they made toward a joint defense pact that would offer Israel further assurance against a future attack from Iran. He said he has informed his chief rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, of the progress in the initiative.
Israeli defense officials, and Gantz as well, have expressed concern that such a pact could limit Israel’s freedom to operate militarily. Netanyahu said he was aware of the reservations but assured that it was a “historic opportunity” and Israel would not be limited to act against archenemy Iran.