Benjamin Netanyahu renews pledge to annex West Bank settlements

Israeli settlements are viewed as illegal under international law and as major obstacles to peace since they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state

FILE - In this July 14, 2019, file photo, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is reaffirming his pledge to impose Israeli sovereignty on West Bank settlements.
Speaking Sunday, Sept. 1, at a ceremony opening the new school year in the settlement of Elkana, Netanyahu says there "will be no more displacements" and all the communities will be "part of the state of Israel." (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday renewed his pledge to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank as he sought to shore up right-wing support before a September 17 election.

Mr Netanyahu and his Likud party have been working to maximise turnout and wrest votes from other right-wing parties close to the influential settlement movement.

“With the help of God we will apply Jewish sovereignty to all communities, as part of the [biblical] Land of Israel, and as part of the state of Israel,” he told an audience at the West Bank settlement of Elkana.

He made the same promise before the previous election, in April, but the results left him unable to form a viable governing coalition and he opted for a new poll for September 17.

Israeli settlements are viewed as illegal under international law and as major obstacles to peace since they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Annexation on a large scale could prove to be the death knell for Palestinian statehood ambitions.

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called on the international community to take action after Mr Netanyahu’s comments.

“Those who claim concern after every Israeli settlement announcement should face reality: Israel’s PM is announcing further annexation of occupied territory,” he said on Twitter. “Enough impunity: there’s an international responsibility to impose sanctions on Israel after decades of systematic crimes.” The settlers are a major plank of support for Mr Netanyahu’s government, viewed as the most right-wing in Israel’s history.

More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, while a further 200,000 live in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem over which Israel has already unilaterally imposed full sovereignty.

Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by Barack Obama’s administration collapsed.

President Donald Trump’s administration has swung White House policy firmly in favour of Israel, and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in June that Israel had the right to annex at least part of the West Bank.

With the election nearing, Mr Netanyahu has again turned to populism to energise supporters. At the weekend, he drew outrage from journalists and free press advocates when he took another swipe at the Israeli media, which he regularly seeks to portray as being part of a leftist campaign against him and his family.

He is facing potential corruption charges in the coming months on allegations of fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

Mr Netanyahu denies all accusations and has labelled them bids by his enemies to force him from office. On Friday, Mr Netanyahu called on the public to boycott privately-owned Keshet 12 television channel, which has broadcast blow-by-blow coverage of the investigations, including what it says are transcripts of witness statements to the police.

“My recommendation is clear,” he said.

“Do not watch Keshet or its programmes.”

He justified his call by citing the series Our Boys, co-produced by a branch of Keshet.

The series is based on the 2014 kidnapping and killing by Palestinians of three Israeli teenagers and the subsequent revenge murder by settlers of Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16. The teenager was snatched in East Jerusalem and burnt alive.

Three settlers were convicted for the crime – two received life sentences and the third was jailed for 21 years.

Mr Netanyahu alleged that the “anti-Semitic series”, co-produced with US channel HBO, focused on the Abu Khdeir killing while paying scant attention to the case of the three Israelis.

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