Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Saturday to extend Israeli sovereignty to the settlements of the West Bank if he is re-elected in Tuesday’s elections.
Flatly ruling out Palestinian statehood, which he said would “endanger our existence,” Netanyahu promised to permanently maintain overall Israeli security control in the West Bank and to formalize Israeli rule over the 400,000-plus Israeli Jews in the settlements. This would apply not only to major settlement blocs, but also to isolated settlements, he indicated.
Asked in a Channel 12 interview why he hadn’t already extended Israeli law to the settlements or annexed them, he initially replied, “Who says we won’t do that? We’re on the way…. The next term will be fateful.”
Pushed further, he specified, “We’ll go to the next stage.”
“I am going to apply Israeli sovereignty, but I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements. From my perspective, each of those settlement points is Israeli. We have responsibility [for them] as the government of Israel. I don’t uproot any, and I won’t transfer them to the sovereignty of the Palestinians. I take care of them all.”
Netanyahu’s promise Saturday came a day after he told Channel 13 news that he had told US President Donald Trump he would not evacuate “a single person” from any of the settlements, and amid reports that he believes Trump will back him on settlement annexation if the Palestinians reject the much-anticipated Trump Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Netanyahu’s dramatic comments about annexing the settlements came as he seeks to bolster support for his Likud party ahead of Tuesday’s elections, including by encouraging right-wing voters to choose Likud over some of the smaller right-wing parties.
A Channel 13 report on Saturday night, meanwhile, quoted sources close to Netanyahu saying he was “more ready than ever” to annex or extend Israeli law to the settlements, and anticipates possible backing from Trump.
Trump’s recognition last month of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights prompted Netanyahu to look into annexation, the sources said. The timing of such a move, they said said, would follow Trump’s presentation of his peace plan, expected soon after the elections.
If the Palestinian Authority, as expected, rejects the Trump proposal, and Netanyahu says yes to it with certain reservations, Netanyahu believes Trump “would give him backing and legitimization to annex or extend Israeli law to all West Bank settlements or at least some of the blocs,” the TV report said.
In an interview broadcast on Channel 13 on Friday, Netanyahu said he had made clear to Trump that he is not prepared to evacuate “a single person” from any West Bank settlements.
When asked if he knew the details of Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” Netanyahu said he knew what he had told Trump to include in the agreement. “I know what I said: I said there can’t be the removal of even one settlement, and [that Israel insists on] our continued control of all the territory to the west of the Jordan,” Netanyahu said.
Asked in the interview, which was recorded on Wednesday, whether he had specified this to Trump personally, Netanyahu said he had set out the same positions to Trump and former US president Barack Obama. He elaborated that he had specified to Trump that he would not evacuate “a single person” from the settlements.
“You said that to Trump?” he was asked.
“Like that,” he said, adding that it had been recorded.
Were the US plan to contradict those positions, he indicated, it would not be viable. “As far as I am concerned, [the evacuation of settlements] won’t be there [in the plan], and if it is [in the plan], it won’t [happen].”
Trump, he said, “is the best friend Israel has had” in the White House, and respects his position, “as I respect his,” when he insists on something.
When asked if he expected the US administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank like Trump recognized the Golan Heights last month, and why he wasn’t pressing Trump now to approve Israeli sovereignty over the settlements, Netanyahu said: “Wait until the next term.”
“All the settlements, without exception, those that are in blocs and those that aren’t, need to remain under Israeli sovereignty,” Netanyahu told interviewers Rani Rahav and Sharon Gal, adding that this would “eventually” happen.
Over 400,000 Jews live in West Bank settlements. Another 200,000-plus live in East Jerusalem neighborhoods annexed by Israel after the 1967 war.
The prime minister’s stance flies in the face of Palestinian demands for statehood in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Netanyahu has taken an increasingly hard line against Palestinian statehood, having accepted the idea in principle in a 2009 speech.
Netanyahu is well-placed to remain in power after Tuesday’s election. Likud is polling neck-and-neck with or slightly behind key challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, but has sufficient minor party allies to form a majority coalition, the surveys indicate.