News ID: 258745
Published: 0224 GMT September 15, 2019

Israel approves new settlement ahead of election

Israel approves new settlement ahead of election

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet approved a new settlement in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, his office said, just two days ahead of a closely-fought general election.

The approval came as Netanyahu and his main opponent Benny Gantz sought to rally supporters. Netanyahu is seeking to boost turnout among his right-wing base, and he has made a flurry of announcements in recent days that could boost turnout, AFP wrote.

On Sunday, Netanyahu's cabinet agreed to turn the wildcat settlement of Mevoot Yericho in the Jordan Valley into an official settlement, the premier's office said.

Around 30 families live in the outpost, which was established in 1999. Israeli settlers regularly set up caravan homes at sites in the West Bank with the hope of eventually gaining approval as a settlement, which has repeatedly occurred.

All settlements are viewed as illegal under international law.

The latest approval follows Netanyahu's recent pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, which amounts to one-third of the West Bank, if he wins Tuesday's elections.

Netanyahu has also said he intends to annex settlements in the wider West Bank, but in coordination with US President Donald Trump, whose peace plan is expected to be released after the election.

The prime minister's annexation plans could destroy any remaining hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians, the European Union and the United Nations condemned Netanyahu's Jordan Valley announcement.

Netanyahu said the Jordan Valley annexation would not include Palestinian cities such as Jericho, but they would effectively be encircled by the territories under Israeli control.

Trump said Saturday he and Netanyahu discussed the possibility of moving forward on a "mutual defense" treaty between the allies.

"I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel," Trump tweeted.

He said such an agreement would "further anchor the tremendous alliance" between them.

"I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month!" Trump added, giving a tacit last-minute endorsement to Netanyahu's reelection bid.

Taking to the same medium, Netanyahu thanked "his dear friend" Trump.

Netanyahu is locked in a tough reelection battle with ex-military chief Gantz and his Blue and White centrist alliance, and right-wing nationalist votes are key for his Likud.

Some 400,000 Israeli settlers now 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.

Beyond the cabinet approval, Netanyahu and Gantz were making last pitches to voters.

Gantz argued he can heal divisions that he says Netanyahu has exacerbated.

He spoke of the corruption accusations facing Netanyahu, who could be indicted in the weeks ahead, and of his readiness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him seek immunity from prosecution.

Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for a total of more than 13 years, is seeking to overcome one of the biggest failures of his political career following April elections.

In those polls, his party along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority of seats, but he failed to form a coalition and opted for a second election as a result.

Opinion polls show results are likely to again be close.


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