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Netanyahu vows to annex West Bank settlements

April 7, 2019

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that if reelected to a fourth term, he will "ensure" that Israel has control of the area west of the Jordan River. The move could hinder peace talks with the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanjahu
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Scheiner

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that if he secured another term in office, he would move to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The remark came ahead of nationwide elections in Israel that will take place next week.

"I won't clear a single settlement. And I will naturally ensure that we control the area west of the Jordan River," Netanyahu said during an interview with Israeli television.

Netanyahu has promoted Jewish settlement expansion into the territory during his four terms as prime minister, but he had stopped short of saying he would annex settlements, until now.

Turkish outrage

Turkey's foreign minister on Sunday said the West Bank was Palestinian territory and Israel's occupation violated international law. 

"Prime Minister Netanyahu’s irresponsible statement to seek votes just before the Israeli general elections cannot and will not change this fact," Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Turkish government spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted: "Will Western democracies react or will they keep appeasing? Shame on them all!"  

Read more: Ultranationalists to play kingmakers after Israeli election

Two-state solution in danger

The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War. Nearly 3 million Palestinians live in the territory, along with hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis who have settled there over the years.

Palestinians hope to build a state out of the West Bank territory if a two-state solution is ever achieved in the conflict.

Many countries around the world have sided with Palestinians in deeming Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions, which have barred settling on land that was captured in war.

The debate over settlements remains one of the most difficult issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been frozen since 2014. Annexation of the West Bank would likely further hinder peace efforts and deal a blow to proponents of a two-state solution.

Read more: Faith and foreign policy: Brazil's Bolsonaro in Israel before election

Israeli Arabs left out of vote?

Facing reelection

Polls show that the race for prime minister will be close. But still, Netanyahu's Likud Party is expected to have a better chance of forming a ruling coalition than his opponent Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party.

Netanyahu has cast Gantz as a choice that would endanger Israel's security, as it would result in territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

The US State Department declined to comment on Netanyahu's statement about the West Bank, and President Donald Trump remained neutral, saying the vote was "gonna be close" and it featured "two good people."

But the Trump administration has boosted Netanyahu's electoral campaign with two major policy decisions: the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and last month's recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

On Saturday, Netanyahu portrayed these US policy changes as his own achievements, saying he had personally persuaded Trump to take these steps.

Read more: 'Deal of the century': US pushes Israeli-Palestinian plan

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jcg/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)