Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday vowed to extend “Jewish sovereignty” to all settlements in the West Bank — a move tantamount to annexation — seeking to shore up right-wing support some two weeks ahead of the September 17 Knesset elections.
Speaking to elementary school students in the settlement of Elkana on the first day of the school year, Netanyahu was echoing a pledge he made days before the previous national vote in April.
The premier said that no more settlements will be evacuated, as happened in 2005 when the entire Israeli civilian presence in the Gaza Strip — known collectively as Gush Katif — was removed.
“There will be no more Gush Katif, there will be no more displacements, and with the help of God we will apply Jewish sovereignty to all communities, as part of the Land of Israel, and as part of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said. A Likud spokesperson later clarified that the prime minister was referring to Jewish communities in the West Bank.
He also wished the kids a successful school year.
It was the first time Netanyahu used the phrase “Jewish sovereignty” in that context, having thus far used the term “Israeli sovereignty.”
Netanyahu’s remark was criticized by center-left lawmakers, with the top Arab politician accusing him of pushing for a “war crime.”
“Netanyahu is a serial criminal: he steals from the public to give [money] to his tycoon friends, and he pushes the State of Israel to commit a war crime of annexation that will cause the death of countless Palestinians and Israelis,” Ayman Odeh, the top Arab Knesset member and leader of the Joint List party, said in a statement, referencing three corruption cases in which charges have been announced against the prime minister, pending a hearing.
“His legacy will be a trail of indictments and promises to settlers he hadn’t managed to fulfill,” Odeh added.
Left-wing MK Tamar Zandberg of the Democratic Camp said: “Instead of promising education against racism and for tolerance… the prime minister chooses on the first day of school to promise settlement annexation.
“Whoever wants to see Elkana being part of the State of Israel should support negotiations [with Palestinians] that will include agreed land swaps, rather than issuing promises that will only guarantee that we continue living on the sword without any solution.”
Yair Lapid of the centrist Blue and White party said: “Netanyahu opened the school year with an announcement that he is interested in annexing 2.9 million Palestinians, giving them national insurance and next year funding their kids’ education.
“On the whole, makes sense,” Lapid added sarcastically.
During his election campaign in April, Netanyahu pledged to gradually apply Israeli law to West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long backed by nearly all lawmakers in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties, and said he hoped to do so with US support.
Last month, Netanyahu again vowed to push for Israeli sovereignty in “all parts” of the West Bank in response to the killing of 18-year-old Dvir Sorek in a Palestinian terror attack outside the Migdal Oz settlement.
Two weeks earlier, The Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu was seeking a public declaration from US President Donald Trump backing an Israeli move to extend sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the West Bank before the national vote on September 17, citing anonymous officials in the Prime Minister’s Office.
In an interview published by The New York Times in June, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman suggested that some degree of annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate. “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” he said.
An anonymous American official later said that Israel had not presented a plan for annexation of any of the West Bank, and that no such plan was under discussion with the US, while Friedman insisted the discussion was entirely theoretical. Friedman’s comments were backed by US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, though days later the special envoy said such steps should not be taken unilaterally before the unveiling of the Trump administration’s peace plan.
“Ahead of the elections, something will happen. President Trump will repeat the statements by Friedman and Greenblatt in his own words. It will likely be dramatic,” a source in the Prime Minister’s Office told Zman Yisrael, Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, last month.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said at the time that the claim that Netanyahu had asked for an US affirmation of Israel’s right to sovereignty in the West Bank was “incorrect.” The US Embassy in Israel had declined to comment.