Israel’s Netanyahu vows to annex West Bank settlements if re-elected – NBC News

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Saturday to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected, a dramatic policy shift apparently aimed at rallying his nationalist base in the final stretch of the tight race.

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, seen by the Palestinians as the heartland of a future state.

An Israeli annexation of large parts of the West Bank is bound to snuff out any last flicker of hope for an Israeli-Palestinian deal on the terms of a Palestinian state on lands Israel captured in 1967.

The Palestinian foreign minister said Sunday that Netanyahu will face a “real problem” if he follows through with his promise. Riad Malki told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Jordan that Palestinians would resist such a policy if carried out.

A so-called two-state solution has long been the preferred option of most of the international community. However, intermittent U.S. mediation between Israelis and Palestinians ran aground after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital early in his term. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, suspended contact with the U.S.

More recently, Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a plateau Israel captured from Syria in 1967. The move was viewed in Israel as a political gift by Trump to Netanyahu who is being challenged by former military chief Benny Gantz.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on Netanyahu’s statement.

Polls have indicated a close election race, though Netanyahu’s Likud Party is expected to have a better chance than Gantz’s Blue and White slate to form a ruling coalition. Polls forecast more than 60 out of 120 parliament seats for the Likud and smaller right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties

On Saturday, Netanyahu gave an interview to Israel’s Channel 12 TV at the top of the prime-time newscast. Netanyahu portrayed the U.S. policy shifts on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as his achievements, saying he had managed to persuade Trump to take these steps.

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