Top PLO official condemns PM’s campaign vow to apply sovereignty to settlements

Top PLO official condemns PM’s campaign vow to apply sovereignty to settlements

Saeb Erekat hints Palestinians could turn to ICC if Israel carries out such a move; settler leader: Netanyahu ‘will be measured by his actions and not his words’

Saeb Erekat speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on September 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Saeb Erekat speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on September 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

A senior Palestinian official condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign promise on Saturday to apply Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements if he is reelected, while hinting such a move could trigger an appeal to the International Criminal Court.

If re-elected on Tuesday, Netanyahu said, “I am going to apply Israeli sovereignty [to the West Bank settlements], but I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements. From my perspective, each of those settlement points is Israeli.”

“Such a statement by Netanyahu is not surprising. Israel will continue to brazenly violate international law for as long as the international community will continue to reward Israel with impunity,” Saeb Erekat, a veteran negotiator, said in a statement.

“Particularly with the Trump administration’s support and endorsement of Israel’s violation of the national and human rights of the people of Palestine,” added Erekat, who is the secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.

With the Palestinian Authority boycotting the White House over US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and rejecting American media of peace talks with Israel, Erekat said the Palestinians would turn elsewhere for “justice.”

“We’ll continue to pursue our rights through international forums, including the international criminal court, until we achieve our long overdue justice,” he said.

Among Israeli politicians, negative responses to Netanyahu’s vow were largely muted, with few parties campaigning on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg shakes hands with PA President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on March 10, 2019. (Majdi Mohammed/Pool/AFP)

MK Tamar Zandberg, who heads the left-wing Meretz party, said applying sovereignty to West Bank settlements would be a “danger to the State of Israel.” She also called on leaders of the Blue and White faction, which is the main challenger to Netanyahu’s Likud in the April 9 elections, to announce their own opposition to the move.

“I expect [Benny] Gantz and [Yair] Lapid to announce immediately that they oppose the annexation of territories,” Zandberg said in a statement. “It should be understood that the annexation of settlements is a danger to the State of Israel and an end to the two-state vision.”

“Faced with this, a stuttering and silent center is not enough. It is imperative to have a real and determined left that will lead negotiations instead of annexation,” she added.

There was no immediate response from the opposition Labor Party, which has traditionally championed resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Settler leaders, meanwhile, offered cautious support.

“I stand behind the prime minister and say the application of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria should have been carried out long ago,” Shai Alon, the head of the Beit El Local Council, said in a statement, using the biblical names for the West Bank.

“The prime minister will be measured by his actions and not his words,” Alon added.

Har Hevron Regional Council head Yohai Damari (courtesy)

Har Hebron Regional Council chairman Yohai Damari called on Netanyahu to make the application of sovereignty over the West Bank the top priority of the next government following Tuesday’s elections.

“We call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to act toward applying sovereignty as a first step with the establishment of a new government and to stand strong against the pressures of the Americans and others,” he said in a statement.

“This is the time to commit ourselves with actions to our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria,” Damari added.

Speaking with Channel 12 news, Netanyahu flatly ruled out Palestinian statehood, which he said would “endanger our existence,” and 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.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises in a Channel 12 TV interview to extend Israeli sovereignty to West Bank settlements, April 6, 2019 (Channel 12 news screenshot)

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.

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