In Israel's election Netanyahu's campaign reached a new low

If the West Bank is annexed with impunity, any hope of an independent Palestine will slip even further away

epa07491896 Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman of the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters as he tours the Mahane Yehuda market with his wife during the final stage of his election campaign in Jerusalem, Israel, 08 April 2019.  Israel will go to the polls on 09 April 2019.  EPA/ABIR SULTAN
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Tomorrow, Israelis will choose their new prime minister, following an electoral campaign that has been particularly objectionable. Throughout, the two main contenders – Benny Gantz of the Blue & White Party and the incumbent, Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud – have stood on platforms of unprecedented intolerance and bigotry. Mr Netanyahu has threatened to wage war on Gaza. Meanwhile, in a bid to establish himself as a man of action, Mr Gantz boasted that he had bombed the territory "back to the Stone Age" during the 2014 conflict, which left 2,200 Palestinians dead.

Mr Netanyahu's latest ploy, however, is particularly distasteful. In a televised interview just three days before the polls, he promised to extend Israeli sovereignty over illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. This would amount to annexing Palestinian territories seized by Israel in 1967, in contravention of international law. Whether this is a genuine policy decision or crass electioneering is yet to be seen. In any case, this is a dangerous escalation.

"The annexation of settlement blocs in the West Bank will lead to the destruction of the Palestinian Authority," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told The National at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. A total of 400,000 settlers already live in the West Bank, surrounded by nearly three million Palestinians. Annexing the land they have taken would reduce the West Bank to an ungovernable archipelago of disconnected territories, costing many Palestinians their ancestral homes.

Quite apart from the pain it would inflict on Palestinians, such a policy would destroy any remaining hope of a two-state solution. It follows a series of heavy blows to peace talks – on hold since 2014 – including the Trump administration’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv and to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. If Israel is allowed to annex the West Bank with impunity, as Mr Netanyahu has suggested, any hope of an independent Palestine, with east Jerusalem as its capital, will slip even further away. As Mr Erekat noted, “Palestinian identity is glued to a Palestinian state.” Put simply, peace cannot be reached if a two-state solution is taken off the table.

And yet, backed by the most amenable US administration in memory, it appears that Mr Netanyahu is attempting just that. His latest plan might constitute electoral opportunism, but that does not make it any less dangerous. At best, it helps to normalise an idea that was once the sole preserve of Israel’s far-right. At worst, it will deal a hammer blow to dreams of an independent Palestine, from which its besieged people may never recover.