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MIDDLE EAST TRENDING-MIDDLE EAST

Days Before Election, Netanyahu Says He Will Annex West Bank If Re-Elected

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Mets with Vladamir Putin in Sochi, 2017. (Photo via Kremlin.ru)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Mets with Vladamir Putin in Sochi, 2017. (Photo via Kremlin.ru)

“If Netanyahu wants to declare Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, then you know he has to face a real problem. We will stay there. The international community has to deal with us.”

Last Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated he will extend Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank if reelected, an unprecedented move the PM is pushing to excite his nationalist base before the upcoming election.

Netanyahu is plagued by corruption accusations and facing his toughest reelection bid to date. If he wins, he will have served the longest term as the Jewish state’s leader since David Ben-Gurion, the country’s founder and first prime minister.

Recent polls show Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party in a tight race against former Israeli army chief Benny Gantz’ center-right Blue and White party. Voting begins on Tuesday morning.

The West Bank settlements have been criticized by world leaders for being illegal under international law and squeezing the Palestinian people onto ever-smaller sections of territory. Annexing the settlements would be seen as a definitive end to hopes of a two-state solution, in which the West Bank would make the majority of the Palestinian state.

Netanyahu Ready for ‘Next Stage’

In an interview with Israel’s channel 12 Saturday night, Netanyahu was asked why he hadn’t already annexed some of the settlements, to which he replied:

“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 sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements. 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.”

Three million Palestinians live in the West Bank with 400,000 Israeli settlers. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Maliki told the Associated Press, “If Netanyahu wants to declare Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, then you know he has to face a real problem. We will stay there. The international community has to deal with us.”

Netanyahu’s leading challenger and former military chief Benny Gantz expressed disapproval of Netanyahu’s pledge, arguing he hadn’t moved to make annexations in his 13 years of leadership and was only announcing the move now as a bid for votes:

“Why not ask how in 13 years Netanyahu could have annexed and didn’t? I think that releasing a strategic and historic decision in an election campaign bubble is not serious and (is) irresponsible.”

Israel Emboldened Under Trump Administration

President Trump has been a close supporter of Prime Minister Netanyahu, telling members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, “I stood with your prime minister at the White House to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” Shortly after telling Jewish American citizens Netanyahu was their prime minister, President Trump mocked Representative Ilhan Omar, who received a death threat from a Trump supporter the day before.

Omar has been called antisemitic for a statement commentators believe alluded to the “dual loyalty” Jewish Americans hold for both Israel and America. President Trump then told a crowd of Jewish Americans a foreign leader was their prime minister, a blatant reference to dual loyalty.

President Trump proceeded to use the podium to lambast Democrats, saying they have, “by far the most extreme, anti-Semitic agenda in history. Their radical agenda could very well leave Israel out there all by yourselves.”

The United States has typically been understood to be the essential mediator in arbitrating a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Early in his term, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which resulted in the Palestinians cutting contact with the President (Palestine views East Jerusalem as the rightful capital of a future state). In March 2019, President Trump tweeted recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a territory Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war, which Palestinian commentators said could embolden future land grabs in the West Bank.

Both Netanyahu and Gantz support a hardline national security stance. After the second intifada, in which Palestinian terrorists attacked Israeli civilian locations, much of the Israeli population shifted rightward. Israel’s population now holds a plurality of right-wing voters, with self-defined centrists making up about a quarter of the population while the left constitutes around a fifth.

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Conflict Resolution. He has traveled throughout the Middle East and Latin America to gain firsthand insight in some of the world’s most troubled areas, and he plans on publishing his first book in 2019.

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