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Netanyahu Repeats Pledge to Annex West Bank Settlements, PLO Calls for Action

Netanyahu Repeats Pledge to Annex West Bank Settlements, PLO Calls for Action

Sunday, 1 September, 2019 - 09:45
Laborers work at a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 7, 2019. (Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to annex all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, he said on Sunday, reiterating an election promise made five months ago but again giving no timeframe.


Settlements are one of the most heated issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians have voiced fears Netanyahu could defy international consensus and move ahead with annexation with possible backing from US President Donald Trump, a close ally.


“With God’s help we will extend Jewish sovereignty to all the settlements as part of the (biblical) land of Israel, as part of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said in Sunday’s speech in the West Bank settlement of Elkana, where he attended a ceremony opening the school year.


He did not say when he planned to make such a move.


Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Netanyahu’s announcement was a “continuation of attempts to create an unacceptable fait accompli that will not lead to any peace, security or stability”.


Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, called on the international community to take action after Netanyahu's comments.


"Those who claim concern after every Israeli settlement announcement should face reality: Israel's PM is announcing further annexation of occupied territory," he wrote on Twitter.


"Enough impunity: There´s an international responsibility to impose sanctions on Israel after decades of systematic crimes."


Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, made a similar pledge days before an Israeli general election in April. After the vote, he failed to form a governing parliamentary majority and the country will hold a new election on September 17.


His reaffirmation of the annexation promise came amid a campaign push to draw supporters of far-right factions to Likud in the coming election, in which votes are cast for a party’s list of parliamentary candidates.


In power for the past decade, but with corruption charges looming, Netanyahu has cautioned that Likud needs to emerge with a decisive lead in the ballot or Israel’s president might choose another candidate to form a governing coalition after the race.


Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in three criminal investigations against him. Likud is running neck-and-neck in opinion polls with the centrist Blue and White party led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz.


With publication of a US peace plan still pending, Trump has already recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, land captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.


Palestinians seek to make the West Bank part of a future state that would include the Gaza Strip and have East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel seized those areas in 1967 and moved troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005.


“This is our land,” Netanyahu said in his speech in Elkana. “We will build another Elkana and another Elkana and another Elkana. We will not uproot anyone here.”


More than 400,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, according to Israeli figures, among a Palestinian population put at about 2.9 million by the Palestinian Statistics Bureau.


A further 212,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem, according to the United Nations.


Israeli settlements are viewed as illegal under international law and as major obstacles to peace since they lie on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.


Annexation on a large-scale could prove to be the death knell for their statehood ambitions.


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