JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins Tuesday's elections, a deeply controversial move that could prove to be the death knell for the two-state solution.
His comments late on Saturday, just days before the closely-fought April 9 poll, could be seen as an appeal to right-wing voters who do not believe in the feasibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
"I will apply (Israeli) sovereignty, but I don't distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements," he said in an interview with Channel 12 television. He did not provide details on how quickly he planned to move ahead with it and whether it would involve all settlements.
If done on a large-scale, annexation could end already fading hopes for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. It is a move the Israeli far-right has long pushed for. Settlements built on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War are deemed illegal by the international community and their ongoing construction is seen as a major barrier to peace.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu's statement on annexation was "not surprising." "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," he said on Twitter.
In an interview broadcast on Friday, Netanyahu said he told US President Donald Trump he would not remove settlements or people as part of a future American peace plan. "I said there shouldn't be the removal of even one settlement" from the West Bank, Netanyahu told Israel's Channel 13 television.
More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements as part of Israel's military occupation of the territory, where more than 2.5 million Palestinians live. A further 200,000 Israelis live in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem, over which Israel has already implemented full sovereignty. The Palestinians hope to establish a state of their own in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Washington is expected to unveil proposals for Israeli-Palestinian peace sometime after Tuesday's Israeli election in which Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term.
The Israeli prime minister was asked by Channel 13 if he was familiar with the details of the US plan, replying he knew "what should be in it." Along with settlements, "our ongoing control of all the territory west of the Jordan" River was a further condition set by the Israeli premier for any US-led peace initiative. He was referring to Israel maintaining security control over the entire West Bank -- a demand he has repeatedly made.
Turkey meanwhile accused Netanyahu on Sunday of raising annexation as a means of improving his standings in the elections. "West Bank is Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in violation of int'l law," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter. "Prime Minister Netanyahu's irresponsible statement to seek votes just before the Israeli general elections cannot and will not change this fact."