JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Tuesday that he would move swiftly to annex nearly a third of the occupied West Bank if voters returned him to power in the election next week, a change that would dramatically reshape the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His plan to annex territory along the Jordan River would give the nation “secure, permanent borders” to the east for the first time in its history, he said.
But it would also reduce any future Palestinian state to an enclave encircled by Israel. And Netanyahu’s rivals on the left and right largely greeted the announcement, made in the heat of a campaign in which he is battling for survival, as a political ploy.
Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war. Most of the world considers it occupied territory and Israeli settlements or annexations there to be illegal.
Netanyahu said he wanted to capitalize on what he called the “unique, one-off opportunity” afforded him by the Trump administration, which has expressed openness to Israeli annexation of at least parts of the West Bank.
“We haven’t had such an opportunity since the Six Day War, and I doubt we’ll have another opportunity in the next 50 years,” Netanyahu said at a news conference in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. “Give me the power to guarantee Israel’s security. Give me the power to determine Israel’s borders.”
The White House said in a statement that there was “no change in United States policy at this time,” and confirmed that the administration’s long-promised peace plan would be released after the election.
In a dead heat or slightly behind in the polls against Benny Gantz, a centrist former army chief of staff, Netanyahu has tried mightily to shift the focus of the election from the corruption cases against him to his strong suit: national security.
He has highlighted Israel’s increasingly overt military campaign against Iranian expansion and even unveiled a new site where he said Iran had once pursued nuclear weapons.
But Tuesday’s announcement was a daring bid to bring the Palestinian conflict back to center stage in the election campaign. The issue has largely receded from Israeli electoral politics because few voters believe a peace process has any chance.
This was not the first time Netanyahu has promised annexation days before an election. Before the previous election, in April, in which he was also fighting to shore up right-wing support, he announced his intention to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, but he gave no specifics and no timetable then.
This time, Netanyahu boasted that thanks to “my personal relationship with President Trump, I will be able to annex all the settlements in the heart of our homeland.”
Netanyahu said that he planned to annex all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and that he would move immediately after forming a new government to proceed in the Jordan Valley, a strategic and fertile strip of territory along the border with Jordan that runs from Beit Shean in northern Israel to the shores of the Dead Sea.
Palestinians see the valley as their future breadbasket. Israel’s critics say it has been steadily uprooting Arab farmers and herders from the area.
Saeb Erekat, the longtime chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, warned Tuesday night that if Netanyahu manages to put through his plan, he will have “succeeded in burying even any chance of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”
He added that unilateral annexation of occupied territory was a war crime. “The Israeli, the international community must stop such madness,” he said. “We need to end the conflict and not to keep it for another 100 years.”
In a possible sign of Palestinian displeasure, rockets fired from Gaza later Tuesday night set off alarms in southern Israel, including in Ashdod, where Netanyahu was hustled offstage by bodyguards to take cover in the middle of a campaign speech.
Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel under Republican and Democratic administrations, said there was a consensus within Israel’s national-security establishment that Israel should retain control of the Jordan Valley for some period after a peace treaty is signed, to ensure that the Palestinians continue to cooperate with Israel to maintain security.
But unilateral annexation was another thing, he said.
“If Netanyahu now says forever,” Kurtzer said, “this clearly will not be acceptable to any present or future Palestinian leader.”
Daniel B. Shapiro, the former ambassador to Israel under President Obama, warned that any celebration of a Trump recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank would be short-lived. “A Democratic successor to Trump would certainly withdraw US recognition,” he said.
Advocates of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict, who have been warning that annexation could be disastrous for Israel, said Tuesday that a move like the one Netanyahu was proposing could be enough to drive the Palestinian Authority either to abandon its security cooperation with Israel on the West Bank or to fold up its tents altogether.
Either action could lead to violence that could force Israel to send its troops back into territory where Palestinians have largely policed themselves under the Oslo process, said Nimrod Novik, a veteran Israeli peace negotiator.
“Unlike many of his coalition colleagues, Netanyahu cannot get a pass for not understanding the potentially devastating consequences,” Novik said. “Consequently, risking chaos on the West Bank and likely spillover to Gaza” is worse than reckless. “It is stupid.”
“If it is just electioneering, it signals panic,” he added. “If there is a risk that he will make good on it, that is probably the most important reason to hope that he is not reelected.”