JERUSALEM, Israel – With less than three days until Israel's election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel's Channel 12 Saturday that if he forms the next government he will annex all of the Jewish settlements in biblical Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). The area is now home to more than 400,000 Israelis.
Netanyahu also dismissed the idea of Palestinian statehood, which he said would "endanger our existence."
When asked during the interview why he hadn't yet annexed some of the largest settlement blocs (such as Gush Etzion and Ma'ale Adumim) which are home to tens of thousands of Israelis, Netanyahu responded, "The question you are asking is an interesting question, whether we will move to the next stage and the answer is yes." He continued, "We will move to the next stage, the imposing of Israeli sovereignty."
The prime minister also explained that he would not distinguish between large settlement blocs and isolated Jewish settlements. "From my perspective, any point of settlement is Israeli, and we have responsibility, as the Israeli government. I will not uproot anyone, and I will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians."
Many Israelis have bitter memories of 2005 when their government uprooted more than 9,000 Israeli residents of the Gush Katif community from their homes near the Gaza Strip, as well as another community in Samaria. The move was expected to help bring peace between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, it brought 14 years of rocket fire, terror tunnels, and several military battles in Gaza.
The Palestinians strongly criticized Netanyahu's comments. Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat tweeted, "Israel will continue to brazenly violate international law 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 Palestinian people." He suggested the Palestinians may take Israel to the International Criminal Court.
Netanyahu's statements on annexation came as the final Israeli poll before the election showed the center-left coalition Blue and White Party led by Benny Gantz would win 32 seats in the new Knesset, five more than Netanyahu's Likud Party. The prime minister had warned that voters on the right were complacent, and the numbers appear to bear him out.
Despite Likud's deficit, the Israel Hayom-i24 NEWS poll (conducted by the Maagar Mohot Institute) showed the bloc of rightist parties with 64 seats, significantly more than the 56 seats projected for the center-left. 52 percent of Israelis surveyed said they thought Netanyahu would be the next prime minister, while 27 percent said it would be Gantz.
Many analysts see the timing of his comments on annexation as an effort to shore up support among voters on the right who might be tempted to support many of the smaller parties that are considered potential coalition partners with Likud.