Netanyahu pledges to annex West Bank settlements after vote

Netanyahu pledges to annex West Bank settlements after vote

Netanyahu pledges to annex West Bank settlements after vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will begin annexing part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank if he is re-elected to a fourth straight term.

In an interview with Channel 12 on Saturday night, Netanyahu vowed to annex territories in settlements and evacuate the illegal West Bank herding village of Khan Al-Ahmar, if he wins another term in Tuesday's elections.

"You are asking whether we are moving on to the next stage - the answer is yes, we will move to the next stage", he said. "I am going to extend (Israeli) sovereignty and I don't distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements".

He went on to say that "each settlement is Israeli and [he] will not hand it over to Palestinian sovereignty". Until now the prime minister was the only exception.

Sources close to Netanyahu which are not involved in his election campaign said that in the past Netanyahu opposed the annexation or the application of Israeli law in Judea and Samaria but in recent weeks he has changed his position and is more open to the idea of promoting such a move, at least regarding the settlements.

Mr Trump's administration is preparing to unveil a long-awaited Middle East peace plan, which United States officials say will be fair. "As far as I am concerned, [the evacuation] won't be [in] there and, if it is, it won't [happen]", Netanyahu said, adding that Tel Aviv insists on continued control over territories west of the Jordan River (the West Bank).

US President Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. At the same time, he praised Trump as "the best friend Israel has had". His Likud party faces tough competition from the newly formed Kahol Lavan, or Blue and White, party led by former Israeli Defense Forces chief, Benny Gantz, who threatens to end Netanyahu's decade-long tenure.

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Palestinian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by Barack Obama's administration collapsed.

The Palestinians want to establish a state in the occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

While Netanyahu has a close relationship with the USA president, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas cut off relations with Washington after Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel's capital in December 2017.

More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements as part of its military occupation of the territory, while a further 200,000 live in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem over which Israel has already implemented full sovereignty.

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