Netanyahu hints at possible annexations in West Bank
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Netanyahu hints at possible annexations in West Bank

PM says he prefers 'negotiated moves' but will act if necessary, blasts EU's 'heinous' settlement goods labeling scheme

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement regarding the Security Council's decision to outlaw the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel on November 17, 2015 (Haim Zach / GPO)
Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement regarding the Security Council's decision to outlaw the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel on November 17, 2015 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday hinted at the possibility of an Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank.

“There’s all sorts of unilateral moves and sorts of directions. Wait and see. And they’re not necessarily in the direction that people think,” he said, refusing to elaborate.

Netanyahu first raised the notion of unilateral steps last week, when asked about his plans to prevent Israel from becoming a binational state should a two-state agreement with the Palestinians continue to prove elusive. “Unilateralism… I supposed that’s possible too, but it would have to meet Israeli security criteria and that would also require broader international understanding than exists,” he said at an event in Washington. Later, his aides clarified that he was referring to unilateral steps to improve Israel’s position on the ground — not, as initially reported, possible unilateral withdrawals in the West Bank.

Addressing the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference Wednesday, Netanyahu said that there are three aspects to peacemaking: political agreements, security and prosperity. Asked by the paper’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon whether he envisioned any unilateral steps if a peace deal remains elusive, the prime minister replied that Israel is already implementing unilateral steps in the security and economic realms.

“I prefer bilateral; I prefer negotiated moves,” Netanyahu said. “But in the absence of security and the economy, there’s room for it. Politically, I think it’s more complicated [and] not desirable.”

Earlier in his appearance, he reiterated his willingness to negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “I don’t want to govern the Palestinians. I prefer them to rule themselves,” he said, adding that any peace accord would need to ensure that territory from which Israel withdraws isn’t used to launch attacks against it.

Netanyahu also commented on controversial comments by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who invoked the Palestinians’ frustration when discussing Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, which killed 129 people.

Without mentioning Wallstrom by name, the prime minister said that Israel is not to blame for terrorism, whether it occurs in the Middle East or in Europe.

“We’re not to blame any more than the people of Paris are to blame for the attacks that are leveled against them,” he said. “So obviously we reject that. But now there’s a new twist: It’s not merely that we are to blame for the terror that is directed against us. We are to blame for the terrorism that is directed against them, in Paris. Now that’s a level of absurdity that… is almost comic if it weren’t so tragic.”

Netanyahu also doubled down on his criticism of the European Union’s labeling of settlement products, calling it “heinous” — a term reserved in diplomatic speech for violent crimes or terror attacks.

“This is absolutely absurd. It’s morally abhorrent because on the soil of Europe, within living memory, Jewish products were labeled. Jewish stores were labeled. And I’d expect, with all the frustration, for Europe not to adapt this heinous act which has such horrible historic overtones,” he said.

But labeling settlement goods won’t have a significant negative impact on Israel’s economy, Netanyahu continued, explaining that it applies to a “minuscule part of our exports.” Israel’s economy is strong, he added; if anything, the EU’s plan will hurt Palestinians employed by Israeli settlement factories. However, he added, it will quicken Israel’s pivot to other markets, such as in Asia and Latin America.

“There is a diversification of our economy. It’s happening anyway. It’s accelerating because of this,” he said.

There are 200 territorial conflicts but the EU singles out Israel for labeling, the prime minister lamented. “You know how many West Banks there in the world, and in more difficult, much more grievous circumstances?”

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