Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said Wednesday he had planned to declare sovereignty over the Jordan Valley immediately but Israel's attorney general told him he did not have the authority to do so until after he was reelected and able to form a new government.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu had pledged to begin annexing the Jordan Valley region of the West Bank if he wins national elections next week. The announcement sparked denunciations from world leaders.
Following the announcement, a United Nations spokesman said the organization maintains that any Israeli move to control the Palestinian territory "would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace and the very essence of a two-state solution."
Netanyahu’s Tuesday announcement appeared to be aimed at shoring up the support of right-wing voters, many of whom live in settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu presented the move as a historic “one-time opportunity” to favorably redraw Israel’s borders. The Jordan Valley makes up about a quarter of the West Bank, which is the centerpiece of any future Palestinian state.
While the head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council reportedly praised Netanyahu for the campaign pledge, some critics asserted that Netanyahu could have annexed the territory immediately through the cabinet without waiting until after the election, according to The Times of Israel.
On Wednesday Netanyahu said he had tried to annex the territory last week, but was shot down by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the newspaper reported.
“I want to act on it immediately,” Netanyahu said in a Hebrew video posted to Facebook. “Therefore I wanted to already bring it to the Knesset [The Israeli Parliament] last week, [but] the attorney general said to me, ‘You can’t because it is a transitional government.'”
Netanyahu said Tuesday if he was reelected he would also move toward annexing West Bank Israeli settlements, but added that he was waiting for the release of the Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan.
The White House has said the plan is complete but will not be released until at least after the Israeli elections. The plan already is facing rejection by Palestinian officials, who oppose strengthening ties between the U.S. and Israel.
“The plan to apply sovereignty is not something that we thought about just recently. It was planned for months,” a senior Israeli government official reportedly told The Times of Israel. “But there were legal issues with doing anything before the elections. The attorney general said it cannot be done now due to legal constraints.”
The official reportedly added that U.S. officials were “fully informed.”
Netanyahu’s last-minute pledge to annex the Jordan Valley if reelected next week has sparked Arab condemnation and injected the Palestinians into a political campaign that had almost entirely ignored them.
In response to Netanyahu’s declaration Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, wrote on Twitter, “Killing all chances for peace for electoral purposes is irresponsible, dangerous.”
The Jordan Valley makes up the eastern edge of the West Bank. Israel captured the area from Jordan, along with the rest of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, in the 1967 war. It has since established around 30 settlements in the Jordan Valley, which, according to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, is now home to some 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 settlers. Palestinians and the international community overwhelmingly consider all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem illegal.
The Jordan Valley is considered a key security asset for Israel because it provides a buffer zone against potential attacks from the east and assures a defensive line along the country’s long frontier with Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel 25 years ago.
Ahead of Netanyahu’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia also reportedly warned that the prime minister’s promise to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley could escalate tensions.
According to The Times of Israel, the Russian foreign ministry said the implementation could lead to a “sharp escalation of tensions in the region [and] undermine hopes for the establishment of long-awaited peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to travel Thursday to Sochi to meet with Putin where the leaders will reportedly discuss regional issues. Netanyahu also met with Putin in Moscow days before the April 9 elections, reportedly as a way to garner votes from Israel’s large community of Russian speakers.
Before the elections in April, Netanyahu made a similar promise that he would apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank if reelected. Netanyahu failed to form a government in the allotted time frame and instead of allowing another lawmaker to try to form a government, he pushed through a vote to dissolve the Israeli parliament and call for new elections.
Fox News’ Bradford Betz, Alex Pappas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.