JERUSALEM: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday touted his plan to annex a swathe of the occupied West Bank and Israeli settlements in a last-ditch effort to prevent another general election.
“It’s time to apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and legalize all the Judea and Samaria settlements, those that are in settlement blocs and those outside of them,” he said, using the biblical term for the West Bank.
“They will be part of the State of Israel.”
On Friday, however, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting a Palestinian state and determining that the US should “discourage” steps such as “unilateral annexation of territory.”
Around 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank alongside around 2.6 million Palestinians.
The settlements are viewed as major stumbling blocks to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Netanyahu has said in the past that the wider moves to annex or “legalize” settlements in the West Bank would be in coordination with US President Donald Trump and his long-awaited peace plan.
Israeli aircraft carried out attacks in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip early on Sunday, Palestinian security officials said, hours after militants in the enclave launched three rockets at the Jewish state.
The strikes targeted two sites belonging to Al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, in northern Gaza, with another series of sorties at a Qassam site west of Gaza City, Hamas officials said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The Israeli army said “fighter jets and attack helicopters struck a number of Hamas terror targets” in Gaza, as well as “a military post belonging to the Hamas naval force in the northern Gaza Strip.”
All three projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, the army said, amending an earlier statement according to which two of the three rockets were shot down over southern Israel.
Medics had treated three people in the southern Israeli town of Sderot who suffered minor injuries while seeking shelter as air raid sirens went off, the Magen David Adom emergency medical service said.
There were no immediate reports of material damage.
On Nov. 29, Israeli warplanes struck Hamas positions in Gaza in response to rocket fire at the Jewish state the previous day.
Netanyahu announced in September, a week before general elections, that he planned to annex the Jordan Valley, which accounts for around a third of the West Bank, if re-elected.
His Sunday remarks, at a conference organized by rightwing newspaper Makor Rishon, came alongside an appeal to rival Benny Gantz to form a unity government and save the time and money involved in elections.
“I have offered to Benny Gantz to join a unity government and today too I’m telling him to join a unity government with me,” Netanyahu said. “It’s not too late.”
The September polls yielded no clear winner, and Wednesday is the last day for a member of parliament to propose a coalition before the country heads to another vote — the third in a year.
“I want American recognition of our sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, it’s important,” Netanyahu said, noting he recently discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, without presenting a formal plan.
Pompeo last month announced that the US no longer shared the widely held international position that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal.