Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins another term in office, a last-minute pre-election promise likely to enrage Palestinians and the Arab world.
In an interview with Israeli Channel 12 News three days ahead of the 9 April poll, Netanyahu was asked why he had not extended sovereignty to large West Bank settlements, as Israel did without international recognition in east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
“Who says that we won’t do it? We are on the way and we are discussing it,” Netanyahu said.
“You are asking whether we are moving on to the next stage – the answer is yes, we will move to the next stage. I am going to extend (Israeli) sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.”
The veteran right-wing Israeli leader, who has dominated Israeli politics for a generation, is fighting for his political survival against former top general Benny Gantz, a political novice campaigning on a centrist platform.
Netanyahu has cast Gantz as a weak leftist who would endanger Israel’s security by giving territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
But Netanyahu, who has fought the election campaign under the shadow of corruption allegations, is also competing for votes with far-right parties who advocate annexation. His comments are likely to appeal to hardline voters, who oppose ceding lands.
Palestinian leaders immediately reacted with anger.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator and a close aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “Israel will continue to brazenly violate international law for as long as the international community will continue to reward Israel with impunity, particularly with the Trump Administration’s support and endorsement of Israel’s violation of the national and human rights of the people of Palestine.”
In Gaza, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri urged Abbas’s Western-backed Palestinian Authority to halt its security cooperation with Israel in the occupied West Bank.
“Netanyahu’s dreams of annexing the West Bank will never be achieved and we will not allow that to happen,” he said.
“It is time for (the PA) to stop security coordination with the occupation, and to get united in the face of the challenges.”