PA top diplomat: Netanyahu will face ‘real problem’ if he annexes settlements

Riyad al-Malki says Palestinians will ‘resist’ Israeli moves to declare sovereignty over parts of West Bank, and international community will be forced ‘to deal with us’

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki attends the opening session of the Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of the Arab Summit, in Tunis, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki attends the opening session of the Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of the Arab Summit, in Tunis, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

DEAD SEA, Jordan — Israel’s leader will face a “real problem” if he follows through with his election campaign promise to extend Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority foreign minister said Sunday.

Riyad al-Malki told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Jordan that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge was likely aimed at rallying his nationalist base in the final stretch of a tight race.

He added that Palestinians would “resist” such a policy if carried out.

“If Netanyahu wants to declare Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, then you know he has to face a real problem, the presence of 4.5 million Palestinians, what to do with them,” Malki said.

He said Israel cannot expel the Palestinians. “We will stay there,” he said. “Then you know the international community has to deal with us.”

US President Donald Trump smiles at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, after signing a proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Malki accused the US of encouraging Netanyahu by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and more recently, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

On Saturday, senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu’s statement on annexation was “not surprising,” and hinted such a move could trigger an appeal to the International Criminal Court.

“Israel will continue to brazenly violate international law for as long as the international community will continue to reward Israel with impunity, particularly with the Trump administration’s support,” he said on Twitter.

Saeb Erekat, speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York on December 13, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

With the PA boycotting the White House over Trump’s Israel policy, Erekat said the Palestinians would turn to various international forums for their “long overdue justice.”

Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, also expressed concerns about America’s “illegitimate decisions” in the region. “We see the solution in dialogue between countries, because unilateral actions will never lead to anything good,” he said.

Netanyahu has promoted Jewish settlement expansion in his four terms as prime minister, but until now refrained from presenting a detailed vision for the West Bank, viewed by Palestinians as the heartland of a future state.

It would mark a dramatic shift for Netanyahu, ahead of Tuesday’s balloting. Annexing settlements would all but end any final chances for a two-state solution with the Palestinians and potentially push the sides toward a single, binational state.

A crane lowers a caravan to the ground in a new settlement meant to resettle the evacuees of Netiv Ha’avot, in Gush Etzion, in the West Bank, May 9, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu slammed Netanyahu’s annexation pledge as an “irresponsible statement to seek votes.”

Cavusoglu said on Twitter that the West Bank is Palestinian territory, adding: “the Israeli general elections cannot and will not change this fact.”

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