Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday he would annex settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins another term in office in a vote on Tuesday, a late pre-election promise that would enrage Palestinians and the Arab world.
In an interview to Israeli Channel 12 News, Netanyahu was asked why he hadn’t extended Israeli sovereignty to large West Bank settlements, as it has done in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, other territory seized in the 1967 Middle East war.
“Who says that we won’t do it? We are on the way and we are discussing it,” Netanyahu said. “You are asking whether we are moving on to the next stage – the answer is yes, we will move to the next stage. I am going to extend (Israeli) sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.”
Palestinian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.
Some of the parties Netanyahu said he would seek to include in a coalition government if he wins the election advocate annexing parts of the West Bank. Netanyahu is competing with those parties for pro-settler voters in the April 9 election. His comments are likely to appeal to such voters, who object to ceding lands to the Palestinians.
Settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014.
Most countries consider settlements that Israel has built in territory captured in the 1967 war to be illegal. Israel disputes this citing historical ties, and says the future of the land should be determined in peace talks with the Palestinians.
The United States broke with decades of international consensus last month by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel captured from Syria.