Netanyahu pledges to annex West Bank settlements if he wins

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.
Palestinians working on a vineyard in the West Bank, with an Israeli settlement in the background. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments come just days before a closely fought election tomorrow and could be seen as an appeal to right-w
Palestinians working on a vineyard in the West Bank, with an Israeli settlement in the background. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments come just days before a closely fought election tomorrow and could be seen as an appeal to right-wing voters.PHOTO: NYTIMES

JERUSALEM • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins the upcoming general election, drawing condemnation from Turkey, which called his remarks "irresponsible".

"West Bank is Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in violation of international law," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter.

"PM Netanyahu's irresponsible statement to seek votes just before the Israeli general election cannot and will not change this fact."

Mr Netanyahu's comments on Saturday came just days before the closely fought election tomorrow and could be seen as an appeal to right-wing voters, who do not believe in the feasibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

"I will apply (Israeli) sovereignty, but I don't distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements," he said in an interview with Channel 12 TV.

Settlements built on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War are deemed illegal by the international community, and their ongoing construction is seen as a major barrier to peace. Annexation could prove to be the death knell for the two-state solution.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said that Mr Netanyahu's statement on annexation was "not surprising".

 
 
 
 

"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," he said on Twitter.

In an interview broadcast last Friday, Mr Netanyahu said he told United States President Donald Trump that he would not remove settlements or people as part of a future American peace plan.

"I said there shouldn't be the removal of even one settlement" from the occupied West Bank, Mr Netanyahu told Channel 13 TV.

More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements as part of Israel's military occupation of the territory, where more than 2.5 million Palestinians live.

A further 200,000 Israelis live in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, over which Israel has already implemented full sovereignty.

Washington is expected to unveil proposals for Israeli-Palestinian peace some time after tomorrow's Israeli election in which Mr Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term.

The Prime Minister, when asked by Channel 13 if he was familiar with the details of the US plan, replied that he knew "what should be in it".

Along with settlements, "our ongoing control of all the territory west of the Jordan (River)" was a further condition set by the Israeli Premier for any US-led peace initiative.

Mr Trump last Saturday was cautious about the outcome of Israel's upcoming election, calling it a close race between "two good people".

"How is the race going, by the way? How is it, who is going to win the race? Tell me, I don't know," Mr Trump asked the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas.

"Well, it is going to be close - I think it is going to be close. Two good people," he said, referring to Mr Netanyahu and his rival, former military chief Benny Gantz.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2019, with the headline 'Netanyahu pledges to annex West Bank settlements if he wins'. Print Edition | Subscribe