Netanyahu Says Will Begin Annexing West Bank if He Wins Israel Election

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 12 News on Saturday evening that he will start extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank if re-elected prime minister in the election on April 9. 

>> Israel election 2019: Full coverage

It remains unclear at this point whether Netanyahu was referring to all of the West Bank, or only parts of it.

"A Palestinian state will endanger our existence and I withstood huge pressure over the past eight years, no prime minister has withstood such pressure. We must control our destiny," the premier said.

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After boasting that he was responsible for U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Netanyahu told the program "Meet the Press": "Will we move ahead to the next stage? Yes. I will extend sovereignty but I don’t distinguish between the settlement blocs and the isolated ones, because each settlement is Israeli and I will not hand it over to Palestinian sovereignty." 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planting a tree in a West Bank settlement, January 28, 2019.Marc Israel Sellem

"I will not divide Jerusalem, I will not evacuate any community and I will make sure we control the territory west of Jordan," Netanyahu told the show’s host, Rina Matzliah. 

Asked what will happen to the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, which Netanyahu has vowed to evacuate but has still not been and which has been at the center of international condemnations against the decision, Netanyahu promised that "it will happen, I promised and it will happen at the soonest opportunity."

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The prime minister refused to say whether he would support term limits, saying there is still a lof of work he needs to do.

‘No force in the world will stop us’

Other party heads were also interviewed on the same show. Benny Gantz said his Kahol Lavan "will be the biggest party" after Election Day. "There’s no force in the world, even that of smaller parties who know the Netanyahu era is over" to prevent Kahol Lavan from heading Israel’s next government, he said.

Gantz added chances of him joining a Netanyahu-led government are "non-existent," adding he was hoping to "discuss some fundamental issues" with Netanyahu, who "didn’t take up the gauntlet." He also said "Israelis know very well where 13 years of Netanyahu brought them … The public will have its word."

Asked whether Kahol Lavan supports a two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Gantz only said it "is for striving toward peace … We’ll push for a diplomatic process." He added his party "wishes to keep Israel a Jewish and democratic state, and not a bi-national state."

Gantz also said the Labor Party "is a future partner in any constellation … it’s an important partner." Responding to calls to eliminate his rotation agreement with Yair Lapid for prime minister, Gantz said he "is a senior, excellent partner, who will be an excellent prime minister."

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay vowed to support Gantz for prime minister, saying he "is an excellent man, and we want him to succeed … [But] if it won’t be the Labor’s way, there’ll be a right-wing coalition, no matter who leads it … Any voter who wants change, who doesn’t want to see Netanyahu as prime minister, must vote Labor."

Hadash-Ta’al Chairman Ayman Odeh said "the prime minister lies just like he breathes and just like he incites" against Israel’s Arab citizens.

Asked whether he would join Gantz if he is elected, Odeh answered: "I didn’t say I’ll be part of Gantz’s coalition, we’re not in his pocket. He’ll have to come to us, talk to us and respect us. He said he respects the Arab public but not the Arab leadership; that is wild incitement."

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said her party would back Gantz as prime minister, despite reports about his intentions to potentially form a national unity government with Netanyahu. “That is the reason supporters of the left must vote Meretz, so that Gantz will have to form a government with the left. If he turns to Likud, or Likud turn to him, supporters of the left are going to bang their head against to wall the next day.”

‘I will not crown the left’

Hayamin Hehadash leader Naftali Bennett said he wouldn’t enter a Gantz-led government "not even in a thousand years. Gantz is a leftist. He’s a nice person but unfit to run the country."

Asked about removing Netanyahu’s immunity should he be indicted in his corruption cases, Bennett said his position "would depend on the charges," adding that the press doesn’t "really care about the rule of law, but wants to take down an incumbent prime minister. I will not crown the left … in the name of this immunity, because I’m a right-wing man."

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said his Kulanu party is "making it into the next Knesset big time," despite its poor performance in recent public opinion polls. Appealing to Likud voters, he added: "You have no reason to vote for Netanyahu, he’s going to form the next government. If you want a compassionate right … I said I’ll only be finance minister, I won’t take any other position."

Avigdor Lieberman, former defense minister under Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu leader, said he would support Netanyahu as prime minister after the election, but "there’s a long way" before his party enters a Netanyahu-led coalition. "We won’t accept surrendering to terror … and won’t accept surrendering to what the ultra-Orthodox [parties] dictate," he said.

Former Yisrael Beiteinu MK Orli Levi-Abekasis, now leader of Gesher, said both Netanyahu and Gantz "don’t take interest in public issues. They’re fighting cockfights, there’s not much difference between them."

Far-right Zehut’s Moshe Feiglin said he "struggles to tell the difference between Netanyahu and Gantz," refusing to declare which candidate for prime minister would receive his backing.

Speaking about his conditions for entering the governing coalition, he added: "Without the finance portfolio I can’t see us fulfilling" the party’s libertarian platform," and if [we get] enough seats – we’ll also ask for the education portfolio."

Asked about his past homophobic statements, Feiglin said: "I love members of the LGBT community just like any other person … The only dispute I have with them is whether the first priority when the state puts a child up for adoption should be by a man and a man or a man and a woman. I still think a child needs a mother and a father. Same goes for surrogacy, I’m backward like that."