Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had made clear to President Donald 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 told Channel 13 in an interview broadcast Friday that 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 comments in the interview, which fly in the face of Palestinian demands for statehood in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, did not make immediate headlines in Israel. This may have been because it was broadcast at the start of Shabbat in a political chat show that preceded the main evening news, rather than in the main news broadcast. Netanyahu has taken an increasingly hard line against Palestinian statehood, having accepted the idea in principle in a 2009 speech.
Netanyahu highlighted his longtime personal connections to other world leaders in the interview, saying he speaks “eye-to-eye” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that these relationships would help Israel achieve peace in the region by keeping it in a position of power.
“Our neighbors, and the Iranians, hope to destroy us. The peace that you can get, it’s only from a position of power,” he said.
International interest and investment in Israel was growing, and other countries in the Middle East are moving to forge ties with Israel because of its strength, he said.
“The whole world is coming to us. Powerful world leaders — the president of China, Xi [Jinping], the president of India, [Narendra] Modi, a personal friend, the president of Japan, [Shinzo] Abe,” he said. (Modi and Abe are in fact the prime ministers of their respective countries.)
Netanyahu and his Likud party are in fierce competition with challenger Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White faction ahead of general elections on April 9.
Earlier Friday, a final pre-election poll put Likud dead even with challenger Blue and White with 28 seats apiece.
Overall, however, right-wing and religious parties received 66 seats in the poll, versus 54 for the center-left and Arab parties, mirroring the results of all major surveys released in recent days and again suggesting that Netanyahu will have an easier route to building a governing majority.
The survey, aired by Channel 13 news, was the last of the campaign for the 21st Knesset, with Israeli election law barring the publication of further polls after Friday.
Asked their preference for prime minister, 46 percent of poll respondents said Netanyahu, 37% said Gantz and 17% said they did not know.
Netanyahu told supporters Friday afternoon that the Israeli right “is in danger” of losing its grip on power following national elections on April 9, as most of the final polls released before Israelis head to the ballot box gave the rival Blue and White faction a lead over the premier’s ruling Likud party.
In a video posted to social media, the premier called on voters to “come back home to Likud,” warning that his rivals could “break the right-wing bloc.”
Speaking to Likud activists outside his official residence in Jerusalem, Netanyahu exhorted right-wing voters to back his party on election day, as opposed to other, smaller right-wing parties, warning that otherwise a “left-wing government” led by Blue and White would be established.