In an interview with Israeli Channel 12 News Saturday, Netanyahu was asked why he had not extended sovereignty to large West Bank settlements, as Israel did without international recognition in east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both captured 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,” said the four-time incumbent who is hoping he’ll come out ahead against the centrist and former top military general, Benny Gantz who is also vying for Israel’s top political role this Tuesday.
“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,” proclaimed Netanyahu.
Palestinian leaders immediately reacted with anger.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator and a close aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “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 and endorsement of Israel’s violation of the national and human rights of the people of Palestine.”
Netanyahu has cast Gantz as a weak leftist who would endanger Israel’s security by giving territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
The long-time politician who is has been charged on several counts of corruption, wants to win over the votes from far-right parliamentary parties that advocate for annexation. Netanyahu’s comments are likely to appeal to hardline voters, who oppose ceding lands Israelis have stolen over the past several decades.
In Gaza, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri urged Abbas’s western-backed Palestinian Authority to halt its security cooperation with Israel in the occupied West Bank.
“Netanyahu’s dreams of annexing the West Bank will never be achieved and we will not allow that to happen,” said Zuhri.
“It is time for (the PA) to stop security coordination with the occupation, and to get united in the face of the challenges,” added the Palestinian official.
Illegal Israeli settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014 after the ‘Gaza War’ left over 3,000 Palestinian killed in a matter of weeks by Israeli military and security forces.
Currently, more than 400,000 Israelis have taken over Palestinian lands in the West Bank, according to Israeli figures, among about 2.9 million Palestinians according to the Palestinian Statistics Bureau, says Reuters.
Another 212,000 Israeli settlers live in East Jerusalem, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the area that Palestine wants to establish as its future capital within a two-state, Palestine-Israel scenario.
Palestine, other countries and the United Nations consider these settlements illegal under the Geneva conventions that bar settling on land captured in war. In 2016, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to reaffirm that Israeli settlements “in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, had no legal validity (and) constitute a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States.” Only the United States abstained.
Netanyahu’s remarks follow a series of announcements and policy changes by U.S. President Donald Trump that favor Israel hegemony in the region.
In March, Trump broke with decades of international consensus by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel captured from Syria.
That followed his December 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the U.S. embassy there. Both moves delighted Israel, infuriated Palestinian and Arab leaders, and were opposed by most U.S. allies.