Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will 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.
- Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank has long been disputed
- The Trump administration however, appears to have emboldened greater Israeli annexation
- The West Bank’s annexation is conditional on Mr Netanyahu’s re-election
In an interview with Israeli television, Mr 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,” Mr 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 Israeli leader is fighting for his political survival against former top general Benny Gantz, a political novice campaigning on a centrist platform.
Mr Netanyahu has cast Mr Gantz as a weak leftist who would endanger Israel’s security by giving territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
But Mr 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 hard line voters, who oppose ceding lands.
Palestinian leaders immediately reacted with anger.
In Gaza, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri urged President 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 authority] to stop security coordination with the occupation, and to get united in the face of the challenges.”
Netanyahu’s position emboldened by Trump’s election
Settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014.
After decades of settlement-building, more than 400,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, according to Israeli figures, among about 2.9 million Palestinians according to the Palestinian Statistics Bureau.
A further 212,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The Palestinians and many countries consider settlements to be illegal under the Geneva conventions that bar settling on land captured in war.
Israel disputes this, citing security needs and biblical, historical and political connections to the land.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, all territory Israel captured in 1967.
Israel has annexed east Jerusalem and withdrawn from Gaza.
The West Bank remains under Israeli military occupation with limited Palestinian self rule.
Mr Netanyahu’s remarks follow a series of announcements and policy changes by US President Donald Trump that were seen to favour Israel.
In March, Mr Trump broke with decades of international consensus by recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel captured from Syria.
That followed his December 2017 decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the US embassy there.
Both moves delighted Israel, infuriated Palestinian and Arab leaders, and were opposed by most US allies.