Israeli settlers stage tractor protest to demand annexation

Mehola (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


Dozens of Israeli settlers on tractors crossed from Israel into the occupied West Bank Monday, in a protest demanding the immediate annexation of the Jordan Valley.

US President Donald Trump's peace plan last week gave Israel a green light to annex the region, around 30 percent of the West Bank, but US officials have since called on Israel to wait at least until after its general elections on March 2.

Bearing Israeli flags and banners emblazoned with the words "we make history, we impose sovereignty," the procession was followed by cars blaring horns in support, an AFP journalist said.

Some protesters wore white T-shirts that read "annexation now".

Since Trump announced his plan, right-wing Israeli settlers have been pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately annex the Jordan Valley, a rich agricultural region running along the eastern border of the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.

"After 52 years of waiting, it's time to annex the Jordan Valley," said David Elhayani, president of the Yesha Council representing Israel's West Bank settlers.

Hundreds of protesters later met up at Mehola, the first settlement in the Jordan Valley, which marked the 52nd anniversary of its founding this week.

Following the announcement of Trump's peace proposals US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said the Jewish state could annex the Jordan Valley immediately.

But Trump's advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the architect of the peace plan, has urged Netanyahu to hold back at least until after the elections.

According to polls in the Israeli press, most Israelis are in favour of annexing the territory, where some 10,000 settlers and around 65,000 Palestinians live, according to Israeli rights group B'Tselem.

Around 450,000 Israeli settlers live in some 150 settlements across the West Bank, according to the government's latest figures.

Israel's settlements are seen as illegal under international law and most governments see them as a barrier to peace.

But in November, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had concluded the establishment of settlements was "not, per se, inconsistent with international law", and that he trusted the Israeli courts to decide.