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A Palestinian View On Israeli Prime Minister's Plan To Annex Part Of The West Bank


We're going to get a Palestinian perspective now on the dramatic campaign promise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made yesterday. He vowed that if he were reelected, Israel would annex or claim sovereignty over about a quarter of the West Bank. The area Netanyahu has in mind would surround the town our next guest is from, the city of Jericho.

Maen Areikat is the former chief of the PLO delegation to the U.S. His family goes back generations in Jericho. He's in Washington now and joins us on the line. Welcome.

MAEN AREIKAT: Thank you.

CHANG: So this announcement from Netanyahu was made just one week before elections in Israel. Netanyahu is trying to appeal to right-wing voters. Let me ask you, when you first heard this announcement yesterday, how seriously did you take it?

AREIKAT: Well, we take everything that Israelis are saying and doing these days very, very seriously, especially in light of the unlimited support that they are receiving from the current U.S. administration. I think it does really reflect the sentiment, the desire on the part of Netanyahu and his supporters in Israel, the extreme right segment of Israeli society.

CHANG: Do you think this announcement puts the two-state solution even further away from reach at this point?

AREIKAT: I don't know. I mean, you know, what two-state solution are we talking about? You know, with all these Israeli settlements, with the annexation, with the actions that Israel has taken on a daily basis in Jerusalem, I don't know if the two-state solution is still viable, to be honest with you.

CHANG: What does this part of the West Bank mean to Palestinians? Can you just paint a portrait of this area for us?

AREIKAT: Well, the Jordan Valley has many, many significant aspects. First, it's religious - the Mount of Temptation in my hometown of Jericho where Jesus fasted for 40 days against the temptation of the devil. And the Jordan Valley is the breadbasket of the West Bank and of what would be a future Palestinian state. It's also strategic. It's on the border with Jordan, and it's the only outlet for the Palestinians to the outside world other than Israeli airport and ports.

CHANG: Right. You mentioned its strategic value. I mean, Israel has been saying all along that, eventually, they would get this strip as part of any peace deal anyway because they need a strategic buffer between Israel and the rest of the Middle East so, say, like, weapons can be passed through. Shouldn't Israel be concerned about securing a buffer?

AREIKAT: This used to be true back in the '60s when Israel occupied the West Bank. Today, in the age of long-range missiles, drones, I don't think you need the buffer zone. What you need is good intentions. What you need is coexistence. What you need is a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians and their neighbors. That's the only way Israel can feel safe and secure.

CHANG: So as Netanyahu continues to talk about taking these unilateral, hardline moves, and as the Trump administration seems to keep backing him, who in the global community are you looking to to oppose these kinds of moves?

AREIKAT: That is a very good question. I mean, we have been appealing to the international community. We've been appealing to the United Nations, to the European Union.

We said this all along. If you don't stop Israel from continuing their illegal policies, their occupation of the Palestinian people, there will come a time when Israel is not only going to defy the international community but is going to go ahead and do what they want to do with the Palestinians and with their land. And this is what we are witnessing today.

CHANG: Maen Areikat is the former chief of the PLO mission in Washington, D.C.

Thank you very much for joining us.

AREIKAT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.