Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz promised Tuesday he will annex the Jordan Valley if he's elected prime minister in March, in what will be Israel's third election in less than a year.
Gantz made the pledge at a news conference in the Vered Jericho settlement, near Jericho in the West Bank. His plan to make the controversial annexation follows a similar promise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last fall.
Netanyahu's annexation plan was criticized by many observers, including a United Nations human rights expert, who said such a move would violate international law.
Netanyahu's Likud Party and the Blue and White Party are in campaign mode again after the two candidates failed to form coalition governments after two elections last year. The next will be held March 2.
"After the elections, we will work to apply [Israeli] sovereignty on the Jordan Valley, [and] we will do this in a nationally agreed-upon manner and in coordination with the international community," Gantz said.
The Jordan Valley, along with the northern Dead Sea, covers nearly 30 percent of the West Bank. Some 65,000 Palestinians live in the valley with 11,000 Israelis.
"The Jordan Valley is Israel's eastern defensive barrier in any future conflict," Gantz added. "Israeli governments that spoke of the possibility of returning the area [to Jordanian control] were making a grave strategic and security mistake, and we see this strip of land as an inseparable part of the State of Israel."
Netanyahu quickly challenged Gantz on his promise and urged him to start annexation procedures in the Knesset.
Gantz also said he hopes U.S. President Donald Trump will release his Middle East peace plan soon. He'd previously advised against doing so, believing it would benefit Netanyahu.
"Many dramatic things are happening in the Middle East, and I'm looking forward to the plan's release," he said.