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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, Sunday, April 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner) (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Saturday that he would extend Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank if re-elected.
Israelis head to the polls on Tuesday and in the final stretch of the tight race, Netanyahu is competing for votes with right-wing parties who support annexing part of the West Bank.
Appearing on Israel’s Channel 12 news Saturday, just three days before Israelis vote on whether Netanyahu would get a fifth term, the prime minister said he was contemplating moves that would put a stop to decades of Israel’s policy recognizing that the lands it seized in the 1967 war would be part of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. What happens to the land is one of the most contentious issues between Israelis and Palestinians, who argue that the presence of settlements would make a future independent state impossible.
On Saturday, Netanyahu pledged that he would not dismantle a single Jewish settlement and that Israel would retain control of the territory west of the Jordan River, known as the West Bank. More than 600,000 Israelis currently live on the war-won lands, the majority live in the West Bank.
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Netanyahu has promoted Jewish settlement expansion in his four terms as prime minister, but until now, withheld from presenting a detailed vision for the West Bank.
When Netanyahu was asked why he didn’t annex some of the larger settlements during his current term he answered, “The question you are asking is an interesting question, whether we will move to the next stage and the answer is yes.”
Netanyahu added that the next term in office would be “fateful,” according to The Times of Israel.
“We will move to the next stage, the imposing of Israeli sovereignty,” said Netanyahu.
“I will impose sovereignty, but I will not distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements,” he said during Saturday’s interview. “From my perspective, any point of settlement is Israeli, and we have responsibility, as the Israeli government. I will not uproot anyone, and I will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians.”
During the interview, Netanyahu depicted the U.S. policy shifts on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as his achievements, saying that he had managed to persuade President Trump to take these steps.
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Most of the international community have long favored a so-called two-state solution. However, U.S. mediation between Israelis and Palestinians stalled after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital early in his term. As a result, the Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, stopped contact with the U.S.
Last month, Trump also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, an area Israel captured from Syria in 1967.
The U.S. State Department declined to comment on Netanyahu’s statement.
According to The Times of Israel, Netanyahu’s pledge Saturday came a day after he said on Israel’s Channel 13 news that he told President Trump that he would not evacuate “a single person” from any of the settlements. The news comes amid reports that Netanyahu thinks Trump will back him on settlement annexation if the Palestinians reject the much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
In response to Netanyahu’s statements, David Ha’ivri, a resident of Samaria, which is in the West Bank, told Fox News, “In my opinion, these statements were long overdue. Israel liberated these areas from Jordan 52 years ago in the 1967 Six Day War. Since then the residents of this region have lived in a state of political limbo, not knowing what the near future will bring and under which flag we would live.”
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In a statement, Saeb Erekat, a veteran Palestinian negotiator, 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 its final days, Israel’s prime minister race appears too close to call, as Netanyahu faces a strong challenge from a popular former army chief, Benny Gantz.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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