Ne­tanyahu vows to an­nex West Bank set­tle­ments if re-elected on Sept. 17

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Alisa Oden­heimer BLOOMBERG NEWS

JERUSALEM — Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said he’d an­nex war-won West Bank ter­ri­tory if re-elected next week, in a brazen ploy to bag right-wing votes ahead of the ex­pected knife-edge vote.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will unveil its plan for Mid­dle East peace days af­ter Is­rael’s Sept. 17 elec­tion, and that presents Is­rael with “a his­toric, one-time chance to ex­tend Is­raeli sovereignt­y over our set­tle­ments in Judea and Sa­maria, and also to other ar­eas im­por­tant to our se­cu­rity, our her­itage, and our fu­ture,” he said.

“I ask you to give me a clear man­date to ex­tend Is­raeli sovereignt­y over all the set­tle­ments,” Ne­tanyahu added.

More than 400,000 Is­raelis live in more than 120 set­tle­ments, which to­gether with roads and other sup­port sys­tems ac­count for about 60% of the West Bank. An­nex­a­tion would deal a body blow to the Pales­tini­ans’ dreams of es­tab­lish­ing an in­de­pen­dent state with the West Bank as its heart­land.

Those dreams have steadily eroded since De­cem­ber 2017, when the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion rec­og­nized Is­raeli con­trol over east Jerusalem, the sector of the city the Pales­tini­ans claim for a cap­i­tal. On Tues­day, a se­nior Pales­tinian of­fi­cial called Ne­tanyahu’s plan “madness.”

“If Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu is al­lowed to im­ple­ment his plans of an­nex­a­tion, he would have

suc­ceeded in bury­ing even any chance of peace be­tween Pales­tini­ans and Is­raelis,” said Saeb Erekat, a long­time peace ne­go­tia­tor and now sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion. “The Is­raeli, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity must stop such madness. We need to end the con­flict and not to keep it for an­other 100 years.”

An­nex­a­tion of West Bank ter­ri­tory, cap­tured in the 1967 Mid­dle East war, had been con­sid­ered taboo for decades in Is­raeli pol­i­tics be­cause of the in­ter­na­tional out­cry it would spark. But as re­li­gious and na­tion­al­ist po­lit­i­cal par­ties gained clout, and peace­mak­ing with the Pales­tini­ans drifted off the coun­try’s agenda amid con­tin­u­ing Pales­tinian at­tacks, the no­tion has come to res­onate with large swaths of the Is­raeli pub­lic.

Ac­cord­ing to an Au­gust poll by the Is­rael Democ­racy In­sti­tute, 48% of Jewish Is­raelis and 11% of Arab Is­raelis would fa­vor such a plan if it were supported by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion. This com­pares with 28% of Jewish Is­raelis and 56% of Arab Is­raelis who op­pose the idea.

Ne­tanyahu said the first area to be an­nexed if he’s re­elected would be the Jor­dan Val­ley, where Is­raeli forces now guard the coun­try’s east­ern flank with the Hashemite king­dom. There is wide sup­port for such a move in Is­rael, in­clud­ing on the part of Ne­tanyahu’s top elec­tion ri­val, for­mer mil­i­tary chief Benny Gantz of the Blue and White bloc.

Dan­gling the prospect of an­nex­a­tion is a gam­bit Ne­tanyahu has used be­fore. Three days be­fore Is­rael’s April 9 poll, and again last week, he sug­gested he’d ex­tend Is­raeli sovereignt­y over parts of the West Bank that are home to Jewish set­tle­ments if re­elected. Polls show his Likud party in a tight race with Blue and White, and Ne­tanyahu has been warn­ing na­tion­al­ists that if they don’t vote for his slate, then his right-wing gov­ern­ment will be top­pled.

En­dors­ing a pro­posal that has be­come the bat­tle cry of other hawk­ish politi­cians might bur­nish his na­tion­al­ist cre­den­tials.

“It mostly, I think, is a way to get votes from the right,” said pro­fes­sor Amichai Cohen, dean of the law fac­ulty at Ono Aca­demic Col­lege.

OLIVER WEIKEN/DPA/ABACA PRESS

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu af­ter the an­nounce­ment of exit polls of the Is­raeli par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Tel Aviv, Is­rael, on April 10.

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