In a victory speech on Friday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed his “final and sweeping” win in the Likud primary on Thursday, thanking US President Donald Trump and vowing to bring US recognition of Israeli sovereignty in West Bank settlements — a move tantamount to annexation.
Addressing supporters a day after he easily defeated main challenger Gideon Sa’ar with over 70 percent of the vote for party leader, Netanyahu said the win was a “huge expression of confidence in my path, our path.”
“Most people support the right, and most people support me for prime minister,” said Netanyahu as Israel heads to a third round of elections in less than a year on March 2, 2020 after the Likud leader failed to form a government coalition in the two previous votes in April and September.
In the speech, the prime minister touted his close relationship with Trump, thanking the US leader for his “historic decisions” in recent years to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement, recognize Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights, and shift US policy to no longer view the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal.
Netanyahu further promised to drive “more historic achievements” in the coming years in the event of a victory in national elections and laid out a six-point plan that would include US recognition of sovereignty in the Jordan Valley as well as in West Bank settlements.
“First, we will finalize our borders; second, we will push the US to recognize our sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea; third, we will push for US recognition of our extension of sovereignty over all the communities in Judea and Samaria, all of them without exception; fourth, we will push for a historic defense alliance with the US that will preserve Israeli freedom of action; fifth, stop Iran and its allies decisively; and sixth, push for normalization and agreements that will lead to peace accords with Arab countries,” Netanyahu said.
“The opportunities are within reach,” he added.
Netanyahu first vowed to extend sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank in April and then again in September, when he used the term “Jewish sovereignty” as opposed to Israeli sovereignty. Both claims were made ahead of the national votes as Netanyahu sought to shore up right-wing support.
During his election campaign in April, Netanyahu had pledged to gradually apply Israeli law to West Bank Jewish settlements and said he hoped to do so with US support. Shortly before that vote, the US president had made his declaration backing Israeli control over the Golan Heights.
In August, the Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu had sought Trump’s support again before national elections on September 17, this time as a public declaration from the president backing an Israeli move to extend sovereignty over Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
In his speech on Friday, the prime minister took a jab at the administration of former president Barack Obama with whom he’d publicly clashed over the years. “For 11 long years, I had to stand strong against American policies that could have jeopardized our security and our very existence, against the nuclear deal,” said Netanyahu in reference to the Obama administration which led negotiations and was eventually party to — alongside other world powers — an accord with Tehran in 2015. Trump pulled Washington out of the agreement last year.
“I stood firm and alone against the nuclear agreement with Iran, while our opponents supported it. It took 11 long years for American policy to change and when that happened I immediately acted to promote great achievements.”
“I would like to thank my friend President Trump for his historic decisions and for the pact between the US and Israel which is stronger than ever,” said Netanyahu.
The Likud leader said that now was the “time to unite in order to bring a sweeping victory to the Likud and to the right-wing bloc in the elections,” promising that the “future is in our hands if we show up to vote.”
“Last night we proved that we can win big, and we will win because of the wonderful decade we brought to the country, in the economy, society, security, in foreign relations and in all aspects. We will win big because of the amazing achievements we will continue to bring to the country.”
Netanyahu praised those who supported him in recent weeks ahead of the tense leadership race for the Likud, saying “they fought for me and I will fight for them.”
He joked that even the intense rain and thunder that hit Israel did not deter his backers from making their way to the polls.
“They know that I give my life for the country, and my victory is their victory,” he said.
After conceding on Thursday night, Sa’ar on Friday stated: “I am certain my cause is just [and] I have no problem with being in the minority… As a democrat, I accept and respect the decision of the majority.”
In his concession, Sa’ar congratulated the prime minister on his victory” and pledged support for Netanyahu and Likud ahead of the March 2 general elections. “The contest was vital to the Likud and its democratic character,” said Sa’ar. “My decision to run was right and necessary. Whoever isn’t prepared to take a chance for the path he believes in, will never win.”
During the race Sa’ar warned repeatedly that reelecting Netanyahu as party leader would lead Likud to the opposition as it would not be able to form a government even after another election.
Data from the various polling stations showed Netanyahu and Sa’ar were neck and neck in Tel Aviv, where the premier beat his rival by only 1%. In the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, Sa’ar was also close, with 45 percent of the vote to Netanyahu’s 55%.
Other central cities including Hod Hasharon, Ramat Hasharon and Kfar Saba also showed a very tight race. But some, like Holon and Rishon Lezion, saw the premier fare similar to his national result — at around 71%-72%.
Meanwhile in southern towns, which during Netanyahu’s years as leader have suffered from the ongoing scourge of rocket attacks from Gaza, the prime minister won big — taking 78% of votes in Ashkelon, 88% in Sderot, 75% in Ashdod and 90% in Netivot.